Just One Starfish

by Grasshopper

Midnight Blue
Chapter 1

Baltimore, Maryland

Mario Parelli sat in the confession box, his head leaning wearily against the latticed grill separating him from Father DeLuca. He heard the little wooden door slide open and the familiar words, the same words he'd heard for fifty some-odd years. "How may I help you, my son?"

He remembered these same words in his youth as he prepared himself to confess to breaking his neighbor's kitchen window, to cheating on the algebra final, to screwing Angela Contadino in the backseat of his dad's old Pontiac. He had always had a sin to confess, every week a new sin, and every week, he'd walked away smiling because he'd gotten absolution. He might be much older now and the sins greater, but he was safe. God had forgiven him for each and every transgression.

He quickly made the sign of the cross and straightened his shoulders. He had never missed a weekly confession in too many years to count and he had always sat proudly in the face of God's voice. Today was no different. He knew, somewhere deep in his heart of hearts, that he had been lying by omission for four years in this confessional, but he also believed that God knew exactly why and forgave him.

"Bless me Father, for I have sinned. It's been one week since my last confession. These are my sins. I had too many beers at Giovanni's Bar on Saturday night. I yelled at my wife when the lasagna was cold. I watched a movie on television that had nearly naked women and I lusted after them. For these, and all the sins of my life, I am sorry."

He heard the priest sigh softly. "And how is your family, Mario Parelli? Your wife and two sons?"

"Concetta and Dominic are fine," he answered in return.

"And young Gabriel?"

"My family is fine," the elder Parelli repeated.

Father DeLuca had tried to get Mario to talk about his younger son, but he always said the same words. The elderly priest frowned once again. All he knew was that four years ago, Mario Parelli's youngest son, Gabriel, had left town suddenly. The story was that he had gone to live with relatives in New Jersey. "Say ten Hail Mary's and please, Mario Paretti, think about your family."

Mario closed his eyes, took a deep breath and began to recite: "O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thou, and I detest all my sins because of thy punishments. But most of all because they offend thee my God, who art all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve with the help of Thy grace to sin no more and to avoid the near occasions of sin. Amen."

Father DeLuca crossed himself and murmured, "I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."

Walking from the church, stepping into the warm sunlight, Mario Parelli had done his duty. He had confessed his sins. He was secure in his religious belief that God hated the abomination of homosexuality as much as he did. He had one son, Dominic and that's the way it would remain. He walked away, smug in his cloak of self-righteousness.

Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina

Gabriel zipped his duffle shut, threading his windbreaker through the looped handles. He'd packed just enough stuff for the trip across country. The duffle would have to sit in the shotgun seat because everything else he owned was crammed in the back of the great car Jordy, Dan, Markie, Griff, Easy and Val had surprised him with yesterday. He smiled, thinking about JD and how the bouncing kiddo had nearly exploded trying to keep the secret that was parked behind the house.

"Gabrel is here! Gabrel is here!" JD had shouted as Gabriel had walked up the front steps of the beach house. He had walked from the Center one last time, along the route that he and Mitch used to walk, past the cemetery where he had found Chris that Christmas. His mind had been so full of cart-wheeling memories of his first innocent love, his new family and how much he was going to miss their love and support.

Going more than halfway across the country to school was going to be a test. Half of him wanted to stay right here, keep attending the University of North Carolina where he was safe, but he knew that until he tested himself, found out how strong he was on his own, he'd never feel whole.

His thoughts had been turning to his other family lately, his mother, his father and mostly, to his big brother Dominic. The pain was still fresh, the sadness still clutching his heart, but he had newer memories, ones that were helping him figure out who he truly was. For that, he would be eternally grateful to Easy. In his heart, Easy was his father, so much more than the man who had given him life.

His life, after his father had kicked him out, had been a nightmare. He had used the only thing he had, his body, to keep himself alive. It had disgusted him then, and even more so now that his mind understood that he wasn't evil or bad or worthless. It was the men prowling for young boys and the people who forced the boys into that life who were evil. No, he wasn't evil; he'd only done what he had to do to survive and maybe, one day, his heart would accept that too.

As he got ready to leave this place he loved and the people who loved him, his first gesture to regain pride in himself and throw away the old memories was to let his hair grow. He had kept it almost buzzed short for four years. His hair had been his mother's pride and to keep it shaved had been a kind of defiance against her. She had done nothing, said nothing, just cry and moan and wring her hands, as his father threw him out. He had wanted nothing to remind him of her, especially not the way she had run her fingers through his curls when he was growing up. He shook his head to feel the long shiny black curls as they flew across his forehead and clung to his cheeks. Markie said that with his mop of curls, his chocolate brown eyes olive skin, and big muscles, he was gonna knock 'em dead in Arizona.

JD had bounced and bounced until Jordan had given in and tossed Gabriel the keys.

"We all want you to have wheels out there, Gabriel."

"I buyed you the keychain, see on it?" JD giggled. Gabriel held the chain up to the light. Attached to a set of blue and green bridle clips was a smiley face set on a rainbow background. The key itself was a black auto click with a tiny silver button that made the key shoot out.

"Oh, Oh, Oh, let me, let me!" JD cried. Jordan had purposely not shown the little key trick to him. He had wanted the key to last at least til Gabriel used it the first time.

He was dragged by a hyper-excited bunch of kids; JD had one hand, Nikki the other and Bug jumped around his legs. "Come see! Come see!"

Dan laughed, "We wanted to get you something that was made for the mountains and all the old roads you're gonna drive. You should have seen Jordy googling like mad."

Griffin slipped a credit card into Gabriel's hand, "Get what you need. We trust you."

Gabriel stood on the porch and looked at his new wheels. It was SO exactly what he'd always dreamed he'd have. It was SO perfect. Giving this to him was the very essence of the joy and laughter that lived in this house, the happiness he would miss until he found his own. The black Jeep Wrangler sat waiting for him. It practically called his name and he laughed out loud. It was perfect!

"Daddy says we have to wait for you to name it," JD grinned. "I can help you. I know lots of names."

"I think I have to get to know him first," Gabriel laughed, turning to the smiling people standing on the porch. "Guys...." He lost the words and just walked over to them and grabbed them all into a big hug. "I love you all so much."

"We love you too. We'll always be here for you."

Every inch of the new car had to be examined, the seats crawled over, the back storage space crawled into, the roll bars swung on, the radio blasted, and finally it had been time for a drive. That had been a major deal because Bug and Nikki still had to be in car seats and that involved much adjusting. By the time, everyone had had a trip, the kids were exhausted.

Everyone sat out around the fire by the thinking log, laughing and telling stories on Gabriel way into the night. The kids had to be carried into the house to bed.

"Carry me, Gabrel," JD sighed, more than half asleep. Gabriel lifted the warm sleepy boy into his arms and carried him up the steps and into his room. Cozying him into his bed, Gabriel brushed aside the hair that had fallen into JD's sleepy green eyes.

"Don't forget me and Buggie," JD whispered.

"Not possible, little man. Go to sleep now." Gabriel sat for a few minutes staring down at the long lashes that fluttered as JD's breathing evened out. "How could I ever forget you?" he murmured.

Gabriel had thanked them all like ten million times and was still, the next morning, hardly able to believe he had this great car and all these wonderful people in his life.

He walked into Easy's office this last time, his heart in his throat, tears threatening. Easy stood up from his desk and walked around to stand in front of the boy he thought of as his own son. Seeing that the words weren't going to be easy for Gabriel, he said, "I got you something." He reached in his pocket and pulled out a new cell phone. "I programmed everyone's numbers in it already. I'm number 1. You hit #1 anytime, day or night. You need me, you call me. I can be out there on the first flight. You hear me? You need anything....anything."

Gabriel couldn't talk. The tears flooded him and he choked. He just clutched onto Easy's shirt front and felt big strong hands hold him close.

"You," Easy murmured, "Are my son."

"Yes," was all he could manage.

They walked out to the street and stood by the car. "I can still ride out with you and catch a flight home," Easy said.

"I know, but I kinda want to do this on my own." He didn't say that he had a side trip to his old home in Baltimore planned, one that would finish one life, and open the door to another. "And besides, you crammed into this car? I don't think so."

"Understood," Easy smiled. "Call tonight when you stop, okay?"

"I will. Take care of everyone while I'm gone."

"You bet. You'll be fine. I'm so proud of you." Easy ruffled the soft curls and grinned. "I can't get used to the hair. Don't break too many hearts out there."

Gabriel laughed, "I'll try, but you know how it is."

He crawled in the bug, adjusted the mirrors one last time, gripped the steering wheel with both hands, and looked out the window at Easy. "Remember four years ago when you cruised Barstow Boulevard that night looking for me?"

"Yes, and I was so worried that I wouldn't find you, that you were off turning another trick somewhere and getting hurt."

"I wasn't. I was waiting for you to find me. I was so hoping.........."

Easy arched one eyebrow, then he smiled. "Take care, son."

"I will," the word 'Dad' silently hovering in the air. One last tight hug and Gabriel climbed into the driver's seat.

Easy stood watching as the car drove down the street and then turned the corner........toward Arizona. If Easy had known what Gabriel was heading into, he never would have let him go alone.

Baltimore, Maryland

It was a straight shot up I95 through Richmond and Fredericksburg, bypassing Washington, DC and cruising into Baltimore. Gabriel tried to block out all the memories of a bus ride four years ago that dumped him out in Wrightsville, North Carolina. He didn't know why he had gotten off there, but now he felt like fate had been watching out for him. He had lived on what was left of the $300 of his savings after buying the bus ticket until he was down to just a few dollars. Bumping up against other kids his age, he had resisted what they did, fought it as long as he could. But, finally, it was all he had.

As he drove down the familiar streets heading into his old neighborhood, he passed the elementary school, the junior high and finally, the high school where he had laughed and been happy and the park where he'd played ball. He sighed, remembering how baseball had been his dream, a baseball scholarship had been all he had thought of and worked for then. He watched kids just like him as they laughed and tussled on the sidewalks near the house where he grew up. That had been him just a few years ago. That had been him before his parents, his father abandoned him.

His father's truck was parked on the wayside by the slightly overgrown driveway in its usual spot. Gabriel had mowed this yard every Saturday morning from May until October as far back as he could remember. The house, old bricks, some showing the decay of time with crumpled corners and ivy trailing up the chimney used to be his refuge. He and Dom had shot hoops right there in the driveway, and sometimes, if his dad wasn't too tired, he'd come out and play with his sons in that magic twilight time between day and night. It had seemed such a little thing, but the memory was like a painting in Gabriel's head now. The perfect family..........before it all turned to shit.

He just wanted to say what needed to be said and leave. A tiny voice was frantically whispering in his ear, 'Go! Get back in the car! This won't be good!' but he thought of Easy, of his family at the beach, and surprisingly, he thought of JD's face. He had to be proud of who he was. Slamming the car door, he walked quickly up the front steps before that little voice could stop him.

How odd to ring the doorbell of his own home. To stand outside the house he grew up in waiting for someone to give him permission to enter. His hands shook, so he stuffed them in the pockets of his shorts as he heard his father yelling to his mother to see who was at the door. He could see his father in his mind's eye, scrunched down in his old worn recliner, old man undershirt pulled out from his black trousers, a can of cold beer in one hand, the remote in the other, settling in to watch the 6:00 news. He knew his mother was in the kitchen, stirring a pot of whatever was cooking.

The door opened and Gabriel saw his mother for the first time in four years, wiping her hands on her apron. When her eyes met his, there was no happiness, no joy. Instead, they widened in shock and fear. "La Madre di Dio, No." (Mother of God, no)

"Voglio parlere al Papa," (I want to speak to Papa) Gabriel said through clenched teeth, not letting the old feelings get to him.

"Sara cosi arrabbiato. Per favroe appena di andare via." (He will be so angry. Please just go away)

"La mamma ," he pleaded," Il suo me, Gabriel, suo figlio. Per favore farme entrare, la Mama." (Mama, it's me, Gabriel, your son. Please let me in, Mama)

"Chi e alla porta, Concetta?" (Who is at the door, Concetta?) he heard his father call out.

"Non e niente. Nessuno e, Mario." (It is nothing. It is no one, Mario), she said, glancing frantically back over her shoulder.

It was these last words from his mother's lips, these words that cut him so deeply he felt like he was would fall into two pieces. Nothing? No One? Gabriel pushed his mother's arm away from the door and walked inside. "It's not NOTHING!! It's not NO ONE!! It's ME, Papa. YOUR SON, Gabriel."

Walking quickly into the living room, he saw his father rise from the recliner, pushing up on his cane, the beer can tipping over and spilling onto the carpet. He saw the reporter on the news. He heard the sound of his mother babbling to his right. He smelled the old smells of a tired house and tired people. He smelled pasta sauce bubbling in the pot and bread baking in the oven. This had been his home for sixteen years and all he saw now was worn out people and all he felt was the hatred coming from the old man standing across the room.

"Las ciare questa casa. Lei non e benvenuto qui. Ho soltanto un figlio." (Leave this house. You are not welcome here. I have only one son)

Gabriel turned to leave, all his old fears and insecurities raining down on him. It was four years ago all over again. Why did he think it would be any different? He saw the pictures on the mantle: pictures of Dominic playing ball, Dominic graduating from high school, Dominic with a pretty girl. Gabriel's pictures had been up there once. His father had been proud of him once. His father had loved him once........before he was different. He was bad. He was evil and sick and his parents were right to ..................................

Jerking around, the pain almost too much to bear, his car keys fell from his hand and hit the floor. Bending over, he saw the funny rainbow smiley face key ring JD had given him just yesterday. He felt the weight of the cell phone Easy had given him in his pocket. He remembered Easy's words ** You are my son**. He straightened and faced his father.

"I'm going to a new school far away and I wanted to say goodbye," he said quietly. "I wanted to see if anything had changed. I see that it hasn't."

"You are finocchio. Lei non e benvenuto qui." (You are not welcome here)

"Oh, just stop, Papa," Gabriel sighed, "You speak English just as well as I do. The word is homosexual and I know I'm not welcome here. You threw a scared little kid away in the middle of the night, but, you know what? I'm not that little kid anymore. You want to love Dominic and hate me? Okay, go ahead. You want to send me away and never see me again? Okay, I'll make that easy for you. But, Papa, you're wrong. I'm the same Gabriel who went with you to ball games; who helped you paint the whole house that hot summer when I was nine. Remember me? I'm the son you used to carry on your shoulders when we went to the beach. I haven't changed any."

"You are making your Papa angry, Gabriel. Go away from here."

Gabriel turned to look at his mother. He felt tears well up in his eyes. "Mama, I can almost understand why Papa did what he did and why he's like this, but you.....? You're my mother. You made me and brought me into this world just as I am. How can you not love me?"

Concetta Parelli looked from her husband to her youngest son. "You are a sin I must atone for every day of my life so that I may be blessed. Every day, I go to the church and pray to the blessed virgin for you to be healed. She does not hear me." She frantically pulled at her rosary beads.

Gabriel's fingers felt the cell phone in his pocket and he itched to pull it out and press #1. He'd never needed a strong hand on his shoulder more than now. He knew Easy could take these strangers apart with just a few words. But, this was his battle, one that needed to be finished, over and done with, so that he could move on.

"I only have two requests and then I'll go," he said softly. "I want to know if you told Dominic why I left and I want the snow globe that Grandma Ginetta gave me. "

"Your brother hates you too. He does not want to know you. You disgust him and shame him. You are dead to us all," his father spat.

His mother left the room and Gabriel heard a closet door open. She returned holding a large snow globe resting on a red wooden base. Inside the globe were two tiny figures, a boy and an old lady standing beside a white house. On the base was a little plaque: Roma, Italia il 1999 Settembre . His grandma had brought it back to him when she visited Rome. The very next year, she died. He had been sitting with her, holding her hand when the pain had finally overwhelmed her. Her last words to him were, "Mio nipote amato, segue sempre il suo cuore." (my beloved grandson, always follow your heart) Gabriel had loved his grandma Ginetta with all his young heart. She had believed in him and loved him. This gift from her was all he wanted to take away from his old life.

His mother looked questioningly toward his father. Mario Parelli nodded his head, and she handed the globe to Gabriel. He held it gently and then, turned it upside down. Instead of white snow flakes, golden glitter fell upon the heads of the two small figures and the little white house. His Grandma Ginetta had said that this was like the sunshine that Gabriel brought into her life. Gabriel had never needed his grandma's sunshine more than now.

It hurt so much that his parents hated him, the feelings tearing at his heart, but he choked at the thought that his big brother Dominic hated him too. They had been so close. What had he done to deserve all this?

"Goodbye, Mama. Goodbye, Papa. Potere la scoperta di Dio esso nel suo cuore per perdonarla." (may God find it in his heart to forgive you)

"YOU are the one God needs to forgive," Mario yelled out. "You are the abomination in his eyes." With a lunge, he lashed out with his cane and knocked the fragile glass globe from Gabriel's hands. "You will take nothing from this house."

Gabriel stared down at the shattered treasure. "You hate me this much? You would do THIS?" He stooped over and found the two small figures. There were no words left. Holding the tiny statues in one hand and his keys in the other, Gabriel Parelli walked out the door of his father's house.

The key wouldn't fit in the ignition, the tears in his eyes wouldn't let him see. Swiping at his face, Gabriel cleared his vision, jammed the key in and cranked the engine. He sat for a second staring at the house, knowing he'd never return, then with a heart so heavy he felt like it was about to burst from his chest, he pulled out onto the street where he had grown up and drove away toward a new life. He didn't need these people. He didn't need anyone. He'd be fine on his own.

Dominic Parelli turned the corner on his parent's street in time to see a black Jeep pull out of the driveway. He thought for a second that he had seen his little brother Gabriel's black curls on the guy driving away.

Walking into the house, he found his mother mopping up a mess on the living room floor and his father sitting staring at the television. "What happened here, Mama?"

"Nothing. Nothing at all."

"I just had the weirdest feeling," Dominic said, as he helped his mama to her feet. "I thought I saw Gabriel driving down the street. Was he here?" He watched his parents exchange a look he didn't understand and then she scurried from the room. "Papa?"

His father drew in a deep breath, "No, he will never come here again."

Dominic frowned, "I guess I want to see him again so much that I see him everywhere, huh Papa?"

"Your brother will come home if he wants to," Mario Parelli said. "He is the one who ran away and he is the one who hurts you. He cares nothing about you. Do not grieve for him."

"I just want to know why he left and didn't tell me goodbye," Dominic murmured. "I miss him so much."

Gabriel stopped in Harrisburg. His heart was beating way too fast and he couldn't clear his head. He knew he couldn't call Easy yet, so he grabbed a burger and a Coke Zero from takeout and sat in the parking lot, eating and trying not to think too much. Voices just kept clanging around in his head:

"You are not welcome."
"You are not my son."
"Dominic hates you. You disgust and shame him."
"Take nothing from this house."

But, way back in the part of his brain where he kept the good things, a little whisper kept sighing: "You are my son." He remembered the words Jordan had said to him just before he left the house on the beach last night:

"Wherever you go, Gabriel, whatever you decide to do, you are part of this crazy patchwork family. I hope you know that. We will always be right here if you need us. Dan and I will help you any way we can. You're like the son we'll never have. Don't forget to hold your head up proudly and be just exactly who you are. You're special and never forget it."

He thought of the last glimpse he'd had of them, standing there on the front porch, Jordan's strong arm giving Danny just the amount of support he needed to stand beside Jordan. Gabriel sighed, feeling that he'd never have anything like that. He wasn't special. He didn't deserve happiness like theirs.

He'd never felt the weight of the dirty life he'd led more than at this moment.

Slowly, he took out the cell phone and punched in #1. "Hey, yeah, I'm eating and I'm gonna try to make it a further on down the road tonight before I stop."

Gabriel listened to the rich tones of Easy's voice as he spoke of the day at the Center and how much the kids already missed Gabriel.

"Yeah, me too. Nope, nothing special happened today. I just drove. Didn't stop much, just pee breaks. I'm gonna try to pick up the pace tomorrow. I should make Memphis by tomorrow night. I'll call you when I stop. Love you too."

He shut off the phone and rubbed his thumb gently across the screen. Now if he could just clear away what had happened today as easily as he shut down the phone, but he knew that wasn't gonna happen. He had to live with what had been said. He felt so much of the old guilt, the old fear trying to tear open his fragile layer of bravery. He almost dreaded the long drive cause all he had time to do was think and right now, thinking wasn't the best remedy for what ailed him.

Mario Parelli sat down in the confessional and watched the little screen slide open. "How may I help you, my son?"

Mario hesitated, then, secure in his God's love, he said, "Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. I bet some of Concetta's grocery money on a football game. I drank two beers at the pub and I cursed when my team lost. For these, and all the sins of my life, I am sorry."

When Mario Parelli walked from the church, he squinted up at the hot sun. He had confessed his sins. He was a good man. Everything he had done was for the good of his family and his everlasting soul. He knew God understood.

Gabriel hit Memphis, picked up I40 and had a straight shot through Little Rock, Oklahoma City, Amarillo and into Albuquerque. Turning south, he caught I25 into Las Cruces and stopped for food below the entrance ramp to I10W to Tucson. He'd made the trip in three days and he was worn out, sore and in need of a great deal of exercise.

It would solve all his problems if he just rolled the Jeep over an embankment. His mind just freefell, thinking of all the reasons not to be here anymore. Why would anyone ever want him with all the ugliness in his past? He could lie and pretend to be someone he wasn't, but Gabriel never lied. Not about important things like feelings. It never paid off. If he did roll the Jeep, his parents wouldn't care, Dominic wouldn't care; they'd just be glad he was gone. But, his mind always came back to the people who did love him; Jordan and Dan, with their abiding faith in each other and in him, Markie and Griff, whose caring had helped him find his way and JD, who gave Gabriel hope for the future.

And there was always Easy. If Gabriel let him down, first Easy would come kick his butt from here to China and then he'd pick Gabriel up and point him in the right direction. It's what Easy did...he was Gabriel's touchstone. He couldn't let his true family down.

One last rest stop and he'd head on into Tucson. Clicking on his blinker, Gabriel slowed to the right and cruised the off lane to get rid of the giant Coke he'd chugged. Walking back toward the car from the restrooms, he watched as a pickup truck slowed, the door opened and an arm shoved a pile of rags out onto the pavement. The truck sped away and the bundle was left lying in the road. Gabriel watched the truck as it left the rest area and blended in with the traffic on the Interstate. The pile of rags quivered.

Frowning, he walked over quickly, squatted down and poked at the torn cloth. It poked back. He swept aside the material and a small pink nose sneezed. A dog! That sonofabitch had thrown a dog out in the road like garbage. Gabriel saw two brown eyes, and matted black fur. The poor thing was weak and skinny as all get out. "Dio, piccolo cane (little dog), nobody fed you?"

Gabriel sat down on the curbing and stared at the ratty dog. What now? He needed to get to Tucson. He didn't have time to deal with a dog. It sneezed again. Gabriel smiled. "Let's get you some water at least until I can find some food." He picked up the ball of fur and walked over to the water fountain to hold handfuls out for it to drink.

He drove into Tucson late in the day, one hand on the wheel, the other absently rubbing the matted dirty fur on the dog's head, the dog's full belly nestled on the car seat close to his thigh. For a dog that skinny, he sure could pack away the food; two hamburgers and most of a pack of fries. He was way too tired to look for the Humane Society today. He'd worry about that in the morning. It wouldn't hurt to keep the pitiful guy around for just one night. But, he didn't need a dog, no way!

Looking around at the beautiful scenery, the mountains in the distance, the cactus and sand...totally different from home, Gabriel sighed. This was the beginning of something. He could feel it in his whole body. Good - Bad - Whatever it was, he would take it. He wasn't nothing. He wasn't no one. He was Gabriel Parelli, Ginetta Parelli's grandson and he would make her proud.

Driving down Campbell Avenue, he turned once on Speedway Boulevard and then took a left on Cherry Street. The streets were narrow and packed with people. He just wanted to look at the school and then he was going to find a motel and sleep for two days. Lots of kids laughing and shoving at each other, the small campus roads full of people crossing. Gabriel could see that he was gonna have to walk the campus to get his bearings, but that was for another day.

He saw the student union, student services and the bookstore. That big building must be the library. He pulled up at a red light to watch kids crossing. It was odd, this feeling of being really old. It was just his third year in college, but he didn't feel like he belonged with these kids. He shoved back the feelings of doubt he felt creeping in ...... doubt that he didn't belong here or anywhere because he wasn't good enough.

He watched the kids from behind his black-lensed aviator shades and wished that somehow, he was just starting college without a care in the world; that his parents had brought him here for his first year and they were crying because he was starting out on his own. All these kids looked so young and innocent. He wanted to start the way they were starting, not this way, not with his heart torn in a million pieces. Gabriel knew that what his father and mother and his brother, Dominic, had done to him had taken away his pride and going back there three days ago had only reopened the wound.

Take that boy there, crossing right in front of the Jeep. He was as bright and shiny as a brand new penny with that mop of brown hair run through with gold highlights and his obviously new University of Arizona t-shirt. He seemed to be overwhelmed by everything, but Gabriel could tell just by looking at him that this was a normal straight kid who grew up loved, never doubting himself or his place in this world. Gabriel wanted that feeling again. He'd grown up secure in his family until he had ruined it. He'd had that security again for awhile at the house on the beach, but North Carolina seemed so far away now.

The cute kid glanced up at the Jeep, his eyes seemed to widen a bit and their eyes locked for a second. Gabriel tipped up his shades to get a better look and the kid grinned. Gabriel nodded his head to acknowledge the wide smile.

Well, enough of that, time for a motel and sleep. The last thing he needed right now was to run off the road gawking at a kid. He was here to get his degree, to climb and hike, and that was all. He wasn't even gonna look for anything that lasted more than a night and boys like that one would only spell trouble.

He would show his parents; he would show Dominic, that he wasn't bad, that he was still Gabriel. The thing was, he wasn't sure who Gabriel was anymore.

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