by Hamen Cheese


"You died?"




"Care to expound on that?" she asked.

"Not really," Derek said as he repeatedly tapped one finger over his other hand, both of which were resting contently on his stomach. He was lying down on the long sofa next to the large fish tank in Dr. Angelina P. Baker's office. The exotic fish inside were glaring intently on Derek as though threatening to eat him alive if he left the story hanging like that.

"I see," Dr. Baker said as she sat across him and peered down on the folder in her hand as if trying to find out what to do to coax a troubled teen to speak. "Well, if you're dead, then I suppose this session is over and I should get another client in here, someone who will actually pay afterwards."

"You were going to charge me for this?" Derek said nearly sitting up in surprise.

"Well, of course I am, dear," Dr. Baker laughed. "I've spent the last five hours listening to your long sordid life story and you didn't even have the courtesy of bringing me the ghost of a sandwich! I missed lunch you know and I'm grumpy when I haven't eaten."

"You said you ate a heavy brunch," Derek pointed out.

"Yes, I did. But brunch is not lunch," she said like it was the most obvious thing in the world.

"What happened to all that pro-bono work you were talking about?" Derek asked.

"Those are for people who can't afford my services, dear," Dr. Baker laughed. "And you, my dear Derek, can afford my services. After all, it was your mother who sent you to me so I'm pretty sure she will be paying for it."

"You know what," Derek harrumphed. "I don't feel like talking anymore."

"That's perfectly fine," Dr. Baker replied. "I'm in the mood to get paid." She pushed a button on a machine that was next to her. "Karen?"

"Fine!" Derek glared. "I'll talk."

"Yes, Dr. Baker?" came Karen's all-too-pleasing voice through the intercom.

"Nevermind," Dr. Baker said as she smiled into the machine and turned back to Derek.

"Of course, Dr. Baker," Karen said in that practiced way as the clicking sound came indicating the line was cut off and they had their privacy again.

"So," Dr. Baker said. "You died. What happened next?"

Derek stared up at the ceiling, his eyes glazed over as though he was lost somewhere else. He absentmindedly ran one finger over his shirt where a not too old scar rested beneath. "The EMT called me a medical miracle. I died just as they arrived and I was dead for several minutes. But the blade apparently served as some kind of cork which stemmed the flow of blood. I didn't bleed to death but my body went into some kind of shock and shut down. When they tried to revive me, I came back and they rushed me to the nearest hospital."

"I see," Dr. Baker said, "so you can pay for this after all?"

"Is that all you care about?" Derek glared.

"I care about eating food," she said as she looked longingly towards the kitchenette in her office.

"Oh, alright," Derek said wearily, though he did smile like he was enjoying the banter. "I'm going to let you stuff your face."

Dr. Baker gave her patient a pointed look before unashamedly heading to the kitchenette and preparing herself a snack. "So, what happened while you were in the hospital?" she asked as she brought out items from the refrigerator. "Did you have some profound revelation in your head? Did your life flash before your very eyes? Will you now dedicate the rest of your life to some worthwhile cause like ending world hunger or fixing stoplights?"

"No," Derek said, almost sadly. "I spent most of the weeks following in a coma. I didn't have dreams or anything if that's what you're asking. Or if I did, I can't remember them. From what my mom told me afterwards, Charlie visited me everyday. He held my hand like he was trying to wake me up through sheer will. My father…" Derek paused like he was trying to control his voice. "He came by once. Like a week after I was admitted. My mom said he didn't say anything. He just stood there and looked at me for like five minutes. And then he left without a word. Kinda weird huh?

"Maybe he cares about you after all," Dr. Baker tested as she sliced open a peculiarly hard banana.

Derek snorted. "I doubt that. I have no idea why he came by. I'm just glad Charlie or Mrs. C wasn't there when he did. That would have made quite a scene. Then again, I might have woken up sooner from all the noise they'd make."

"Perhaps your mom asked him to stop by?"

"No," Derek said with some finality. "She's done with him."

"Maybe he was hoping to find you alone in your room so he could pull the plug or something. Maybe he wanted to finish you off."

Derek stared at her incredulously.

"I'm pretty sure that's it," Dr. Baker said confidently. "He doesn't care about you. He just wants to get rid of his gay son."

"Are you trying to depress me or something?" Derek asked irritably.

"What?" Dr. Baker asked innocently. "Do you want me to say oh he realized how easily his son could disappear from his life and now he's trying to make amends for the bad things he's done to you? Is that what you want me to say?"

"Well, no," Derek said. "It's just… I know more about my dad. My mom and I spoke about him more. After everything she told me, I wouldn't be surprised if he really was capable of murder. I guess I'm glad I'm not dead. Maybe he did care enough to just leave me alone for the most part instead of… you know…" he let the implications hang in the air.

"You think your dad wants you dead?" Dr. Baker asked. "You really think he's that bad that he would go so far as murder?"

"I don't know," Derek said uncertainly. "I hope not. But… I don't know. I guess I could just feel it even then, you know? It's like when you meet someone and you can quickly get an impression of whether or not that person was someone you could cross."

"Perhaps it was just you being a child and naturally afraid of your parent's anger?" Dr. Baker suggested as she placed the sliced bananas in between large round hams. "Have you perhaps considered that?"

"Maybe," Derek replied with a frown. "But I don't think so. You haven't met my dad. He's different, stronger than most men you would ever meet in a lifetime. It's almost like his very presence screams danger. And his eyes," he paused as she looked over at Dr. Baker who was cleaning up in the kitchenette, "I think his eyes always gave away a little bit of the person inside. His eyes always held a hint of what he really feels. He could convincingly smile at you yet look with a cold and critical view at the same time. I don't know if other people saw it. Perhaps they didn't. Maybe it was just me."

"Well, given your obviously poor judge of character," Dr. Baker said as she handed one of the two plates she was carrying to Derek. She had added chips and sliced pickles as garnish. "I wouldn't quite put any bets on you just yet."

"Tell me again why I go to you of all people," Derek prompted with a glare.

"Because," Dr. Baker laughed, "I put you down so low with scenarios so bad that when things don't turn out as bad as I predict, you'll feel better about yourself."

Derek stared at her. "Is that true?"

"Of course it is," Dr. Baker said as she took a bite out of her sandwich, "everything I say is true."

Derek sighed and shook his head still convinced that Dr. Baker was the one in the room who really needed to see a psychiatrist.

"Speaking of true," Dr. Baker said around a mouthful of bread. She put down her sandwich and picked up Derek's folder again. "How much of what you told me was truth and how much of it was fiction?"

"What do you mean?" Derek asked.

"Well," Dr. Baker said as she adjusted her glasses. "I noticed some very inaccurate pronouncements. For instance, I have been to some of your games in Southmore. Contrary to what you say, you are not as good a basketball player as you claim to be. You have some skill, sure," she responded as Derek's eyes narrowed at her. "But the way you described yourself on court made even me skeptical and that's saying a lot.

"Second," she continued before Derek could reply. "Unless standards have changed nowadays, I do believe that the single ring on my finger, though admirably gorgeous and eye-catching, is nowhere near enough to warrant me being called PIMP." She admired the ring on her finger as she stretched her long slender fingers out. It was sort of true. Although each and every garment she had on her were designer clothes, they were nowhere near the lavishly bejeweled description Derek gave of her earlier. The ring was the sole piece of jewelry she had on her and it was more out of necessity than anything else. In contrast to Derek's jewel encrusted depiction, she looked absolutely impoverished.

Derek didn't answer at once. Again, he looked up at the ceiling as though he was once more lost in his thoughts, drifting away to another world in his head. The plate rested on his chest, mostly untouched except for a bit or two of the chips. When he did finally speak, his voice was soft, almost full of regret, "it's true enough."

"I see," Dr. Baker said as she peered over her glasses at her patient. She wanted to know more but knew better than to push at that moment. Derek both puzzled and intrigued her and she could almost read him as easily as a book. Although some pages remained blank for her as though the text were written in invisible ink. She knew that any hastened attempt to expose them would result only in damaging the pages, perhaps even destroying the whole book.

"By the way," Derek said, "when did you watch games at Southmore?"

"When I have free time," she replied. "Mostly I'm there to visit my husband though."

"Your husband?" Derek asked with a frown. "Your husband works in Southmore?"

"Yes, dear," she laughed like it was funny that Derek hadn't figured it out yet.

"Who?" Derek asked intrigued.

"Come now, Derek," Dr. Baker said with an amused tone. "I thought that would have been obvious. How many faculty members in Southmore do you know are enamored and dedicated to the whole sport of basketball? How many people do you know live and breathe that damn game?"

Derek's eyes flew out of their socket. "You don't mean Coach Henry?"

"Yes, dear," she laughed.

"How? His last name isn't even Baker," Derek replied.

"Simple, I use my maiden name for work."

"But… but…" Derek stuttered.

"But what?" Dr. Baker laughed.

"He's so normal," Derek said simply. "And you're…"

"Amazing?" Dr. Baker suggested.

"Weird," Derek corrected.

"Thinks I'm amazing," Dr. Baker muttered slowly as she wrote something down in the folder in front of her.

"Uhh, you're hopeless you know that?" Derek asked. "How did you even get a degree in psychology?"

"Easy," Dr. Baker replied with a smile. "I just bullied my teachers into giving me high grades."

She stared at Derek without saying anything else. It made Derek think that her words were at least half-true.

"By the way," Dr. Baker said. "What happened to this Jared person?"

"Oh he was charged with murder and attempted murder," Derek said with a scowl as though remembering Jared was giving him indigestion. "Apparently, he was the one who killed Luke. The police found this notebook at his house which contained schedules of other students, particularly Charlie, Luke, and myself. Seemed like he was planning to kill the three of us and had encircled particular times he would do it. He was going to kill me after my practice, Charlie after his work, and they assumed Luke whenever the opportunity would present itself. I guess Luke didn't really have any particular schedule he stuck to since he played hooky so many times.

"They also found copies of my old essays folded between the pages of his notebook," Derek continued. "The police said there were rough drafts of him copying my handwriting and making threatening letters for Travis to make it seem like I was doing it. It wasn't hard for him to leave the letters in places Travis would later find since they ate lunch together. I'm thinking he wanted to scare Travis away from Charlie but apparently it didn't work since Travis stuck by Charlie even more. I suppose… I suppose I should be glad for that…"

"Why do you say that?" Dr. Baker asked.

"I think… I think he would have acted sooner against Charlie if Travis wasn't hanging around Charlie so much. Obviously, he didn't want to do anything where Travis could easily catch him in the act so he had to wait for a time when Charlie was alone. For the most part, Travis stuck to Charlie almost all the time until I beat Travis almost unconscious. To think I almost got my best friend killed."

Dr. Baker suddenly started laughing hysterically.

"What?" Derek asked, a little irritated at her reaction.

"Oh, I'm sorry," Dr. Baker said. "Did you say something? All I could hear was self-pity."

Derek looked disbelievingly at her.

"Oh get over yourself, Derek," she said as she waved a hand dismissively. "Nobody could have foreseen what would happen and who was behind it. You did the best you could with the information you had. Nobody could have expected more of you."

Derek leaned back onto the couch and again stared up at the ceiling. He seemed almost far too serene for a boy his age. "I guess."

Dr. Baker mentally sighed. Of course she couldn't sigh out loud. It would have been counterproductive if Derek noticed. She made an imaginary list in her head of the information she would need to send her colleague. There was still a lot to be done for this boy.

"Anyway," Dr. Baker said as she unclipped something from the folder in her hand. "Our time is almost up and since you are still moving in with your uncle," she phrased it as if it was a question and then waited for Derek to nod, "then I would like you to continue seeing someone while you're there. This," she said as she handed a calling card to Derek, "is the card of a friend who works there. I've already informed him that you are coming. He's expecting you to call and set a regular schedule for you two to meet. If he doesn't receive a call from you in two weeks at the latest, I'm going to drive up there myself and drag you into his office in chains and a spiked collar." She laughed in such a menacing way that Derek just knew she would actually do it.

"Okay," he said as he read the unfamiliar name on the card, "Is he as crazy as you?"

"Oh you have no idea," she laughed buoyantly.

When Derek reached the waiting room of Dr. Baker's office, he found some unexpected people waiting for him.

"Big C?" Derek asked as he saw the familiar face of his best friend standing there next to two other familiar faces.

"Hi, Hero," Big C said with a wide happy smile.

"Hey, you jerk," Rebecca said smiling just as wide.

Travis merely grunted.

"What are you guys doing here?" Derek asked. "And where's my mom?"

"Oh she's talking to my mom," Charlie said. "I think they may be waiting outside for your uncle to arrive."

"Your mom's here?" Derek asked.

"Yeah, she didn't want you to go away without saying goodbye," Charlie said.

"I think the words she used were give him a piece of her mind," Rebecca said amused.

"Okay," Derek laughed, his heart felt lighter as he stood there watching his three good friends (well, perhaps two and a half – he wasn't entirely sure about Travis yet). Although Rebecca has been visiting him every now and then in the apartment his mom has been renting, he hadn't seen or heard from Travis in over a month, ever since that day outside Mr. Maloney's shop. "Wow, you guys, you're really here."

"Actually," Travis said, "we're just a figment of your imagination. I'm sorry to tell you this but you're crazy, Derek."

"Oh cuz," Rebecca said with playful punch. Or at least it seemed playful to Derek. Travis tried his best to suppress the wince the hit was pushing out of him. "Anyway," she continued as she wrapped an arm around her cousin's arm, "I think we should give these two some privacy, don't you?"

"Not really," Travis muttered and then was unable to hold back the wince anymore as Rebecca's fingers dug deep into his skin as she dragged him away. Idly, he wondered why she never went into martial arts.

Oh, yeah… there would be fatalities.

"So…" Charlie said somewhat awkwardly, "how was the session?"

"Pretty good actually," Derek replied. He waved his hand as though indicating they should leave the waiting room. Derek didn't really want Dr. Baker's secretary, Karen the Camel-Hoarder, to hear their conversation. "She gave the card of another shrink I should see when I move to California."

"Oh," Charlie said as he followed Derek out. "Do you still even need to see one?"

"I want to," Derek said. "I'd be stupid to think I didn't have issues to deal with. I want to get better." He paused and then almost as an afterthought added, "I want to get my life back to the way it was."

"You mean being captain of the basketball team and top student of Southmore?" Charlie smirked amiably.

"No," Derek replied seriously. "I want to have my best friend back."

Charlie frowned but not so much out of sadness but more out of concern. "Hero, you have always been my best friend. Always have been. Always will be."

"I know," Derek said quietly. "But I haven't been your best friend lately, at least not in the way I should be. I still have a hard time accepting some things about you… about me." He paused and let the sentence hang there.

"You're really moving away aren't you?" Charlie asked after several minutes of silence. "You're not gonna change your mind?"

"Dr. Baker thinks it's a good idea," Derek replied.

"I thought you said she was a crazy old hag that juggles knives and eats wieners?" Charlie smiled. "You're going to take her word for it?"

Derek chuckled. "She is all that and more… but it doesn't mean she's not right. Besides, she wants me to see another psychiatrist. She pretends like it's nothing, just some friend of hers that's a psychiatrist there. But if I know her enough already, I'm pretty sure he's some kind of specialist in this kind of crap."

"Why can't she be the one to help you?" Charlie asked softly.

Derek looked out of the building's glass windows. From where he stood, he could see the whole world beneath him. The people there were tiny compared to him. From above, they looked so insignificant. Yet, he understood that their lives were just as precious, just as meaningful as the lives of those who look from above. "She says I need to heal. We," he looked at Charlie, "need to heal. And we can't do that if we're living so close to each other. We need space." He paused and stared once more out the window. "We need time."

It was awhile before either of them spoke. Derek was becoming uncomfortable with the silence so he asked more to have something to say than out of wanting to know, "so, how are you and Travis?"

"Oh," Charlie said in a way that made Derek think that his best friend was uncomfortable with the topic. "We broke up."

"Huh?" Derek asked, totally surprised.

"Yeah," Charlie said. "I didn't think we had a future together, not like that. We're friends." He paused. "Good friends but nothing more."

"Oh," Derek said, uncertain how he felt about that. There was once more an awkward silence between the two boys as they walked together. "Can I call you sometime?" Derek asked a bit nervously as they exited the elevator into the lobby. "I mean assuming my dad doesn't somehow block all of California from the rest of the world." He could see at the distance his mom and Mrs. C talking. Travis and Rebecca were hanging off to the side and were having their own seemingly serious conversation.

"You can call me anytime, Hero," Charlie replied. "My number hasn't changed."

"Oh," Derek replied. "Of course it hasn't. I mean… okay. I just wanted to make sure… I mean I didn't know if you still wanted to hear from me."

Charlie stopped in his tracks causing Derek pause also and look back. "Why would I not want to hear from you?"

"Well," Derek began tentatively. "It was just that… I mean. You know what, it was stupid." He laughed and tried to make light of the situation. In truth, his imagination has been leading him down depressing conclusions… conclusions that drove him to want to move even more to California after everything that's happened.

"Hero," Charlie said. "I visited you every day while you were in the hospital." He had a confidence in him that was absent in the shy person Derek knew several months before. "I see you almost everyday since you've been out. What would make you think that I didn't want to hear from you anymore when you move to California? I wouldn't mind even if you called everyday," he added as though to make sure he got the point across.

"Oh," Derek said as he looked down. "I mean after everything that happened between us, I thought you'd just want to put everything behind you or something when I leave. I mean because of me…"

"Don't," Charlie said vehemently as he slashed a hand in the air, almost causing Derek to stumble backwards in surprise. "Don't apologize for anything that's happened. They happened because they happened, you hear me? You made mistakes yes but it doesn't mean it's all your fault. Okay?"

Derek simply looked down unable to say anything in reply.

"You do understand that, right?" Charlie said, compassion leaking through every word. "You know that everything bad that's happened wasn't because of you right? They would have happened one way or another. Maybe they would have happened later and then might have ended worse if you weren't there." He paused as he looked intently at his friend. "You know that what he did to you wasn't your fault, right?"

"I guess," Derek shrugged uncertainly.

Charlie's heart broke for his best friend. He always knew that what Derek's dad did would leave lasting scars on Derek but he hoped that the wounds would heal with time.

It seemed that Derek was still bleeding inside and he would not be whole until he was able to find himself again and to know who he really was and who he wasn't.

"That's not why you're moving are you?" Charlie asked. "It's not because you want to leave everything… everyone… behind right?" Again, his best friend remained quiet. He thought deeply about the situation. Charlie didn't want to have gone through everything for it to end like that. It was clear to him that his best friend was having a lot of trouble expressing emotions. He didn't want to push him. But he didn't want to lose Derek either. Stiffening his resolve, he stood in front of Derek until they both stopped. "Promise to call me alright?" Charlie said. In a fake threatening voice, he added, "and if you don't, I'm going to come over to your uncle's place and beat some sense into you until you learn to dial my number."

"Well, you can try," Derek smirked, his mood improving immensely. The banter seemed to help mask some of his darker emotions. "But as I recall, you have never once won a scuffle against me."

"There's a first time for everything," Charlie said. "Besides, all I have to do is get a trash can and whack it against your face."

Their laughter echoed loudly across the lobby.

"Derek," his mom called out from the entrance. "Your uncle's here."

Derek and Charlie made their way to the entrance.

"May I have a word?" Mrs. C asked Derek when he reached her.

"Sure," Derek said a little uncertainly as the two of them moved away from the others. Charlie looked at them with apprehension.

"How are you holding up?" she asked, concern clear in her voice.

"I'm fine, Mrs. C. Thank you."

"Good," she sighed. Not one to beat around the bush, Mrs. C quickly got to the point. "Derek, are you sure about this?"

Derek immediately understood that she wasn't just asking about him moving to California. "Yes," he said. "It happened a long time ago, Mrs. C. It's not that I don't think my dad deserves justice. He does. He deserves to go to jail."

"Then you should bring him to justice," she said interrupting. "Your mom is already willing to take this to court. She wants him to pay for what he did to you when you were young. It's many years late but she feels strongly about this now."

"I don't," Derek said. "Please Mrs. C. If you want my dad to go to jail, please get him for something else. I just… I can't do this. Not now."

She sighed heavily. "Of course. I feel that I'm pushing too hard but you know why, right? You suffered in his hands. I don't want anyone else to have to suffer like you did. Please," she added quickly when she saw the look on Derek's face. "I'm not trying to put guilt on your shoulders. Just think about it first, okay? You're an adult now. Your mom and I really cannot force this thing on you. But please, just promise me you'll think about it while you live with your uncle."

"I will," Derek said. "I don't want anyone else to go through what I did either. But, I'm just…" He paused unable to say anything else.

"I know," she said gently. She then hugged him to her in a way that would have made anyone think he was truly her son.

"Thank you by the way," Derek said after they pulled apart.

"For what?" Mrs. C asked.

"For telling my mom about what happened to me when I was little," he replied.

Mrs. C smiled though it was obvious from her expression that it wasn't a happy one. "When I saw how Charlie was when he came home that day, I knew something bad had happened. He wouldn't tell me. His loyalty to you can be so stubbornly aggravating sometimes. And then I saw you taking out those trash bags and carefully hiding one under the other, I knew there was something different or special about what was in that second bag. I had to find out what it was. I hope you don't think I was too nosy."

"You were," Derek said plainly but he gave a genuine smile though.

"I hope you don't blame your mom," Mrs. C continued, ignoring the jab at her. "She loves you and she loved your dad. She wouldn't accept what I was telling her about your father. She didn't want it to be true. It was perhaps our one biggest fight that threatened to destroy our friendship. But when he stopped calling, she started turning around. When weeks turned to months and months turned to years, even she couldn't deny that I was probably right. She's not perfect, Derek. She did the best she could to raise you. If there is anything you should leave with here today, it's that no one on this Earth is perfect. We all make mistakes. The best we can do is forgive those that have wronged us and ask forgiveness from those we have wronged."

"So you think I should forgive my dad?" Derek smirked indicating he wasn't the least bit serious.

"Hell no," Mrs. C said, making Derek smile even wider. He knew by her standards that she had already cursed, something she was adamantly against.

They rejoined the others. Derek's mom asked if Mrs. C was alright. Her eyes were a little puffy after all. Derek's mom then promised to drive up there with Mrs. C on the weekend. Derek half-joked if it was possible for Mrs. C not to come with his mom. This of course earned him a reproving glare from the aforementioned woman who had ears like a hound.

The two women then gave the four youngsters time to say goodbye to each other. They were all subdued and Rebecca even broke out into tears. Travis had to bring her away to comfort her.

"Derek, hold on a sec," Charlie said as Derek made his way towards the road where his uncle was talking to his mom.

"Yeah?" Derek asked.

"You are coming back right?" Charlie asked pensively.

"What do you mean?" Derek asked.

"I mean you're planning to come back here when things are okay again, right? I mean you're not planning to just stay over there in California. You really are going to call me right?"

Derek looked down. He was afraid this conversation was going to come up. He thought he would get away without talking about it but apparently he had to. "I'm not sure I'm good for you right now," he said. He then half-laughed. "I very much think I'm dangerous to your health."

Charlie looked unsettled like she was trying to wrestle with himself. Finally he seemed to come to a conclusion. "You said you loved me." His voice sounded strong. Yet there was a brittleness beneath that gave the impression that it could all fall apart at any moment. "Did you just say that because you were dying? Do you regret saying it now that you know you're going to live?"

"Big C…" Derek replied in a pleading voice.

"I love you," Charlie interrupted.

Derek looked back at Charlie and peered deeply into his eyes.

"And you love me," Charlie said. It wasn't a question. It wasn't a guess or a desperate hope. It was a pronouncement, a truth whispered to the wind.

"Doesn't change anything," Derek said as he looked down. "You deserve better than me."

"Then fight for me," Charlie said. Derek was surprised at the voracity of Charlie's voice. "Fight to become better so that you deserve to be with me."

Derek stood there, momentarily stunned. It was as if his best friend had somehow managed to read his deepest thoughts, the greatest insecurities that he had after nearly dying at Jared's hands. "I'm not sure I can," Derek replied as though it had been an answer played over and over again in his head.

"What happened to the all confident Derek? The one who would do whatever it takes to get what he wants?" Charlie asked.

"I think he died," Derek said, partially smirking at the morbid truth of his words.

Charlie though didn't smile. Instead he looked deeply into Derek's eyes as though willing his best friend to see, willing his best friend to understand. "A long time ago you asked me to wait. Do you remember that?"

"Yeah," Derek said recalling the memory from when they were eleven, the day his life had changed.

"I'm going to wait," Charlie said. "I don't care if it takes years or decades. I'll wait forever if I have to because I love you."

"Big C, You don't have to," Derek said weakly.

"I know I don't have to," Charlie said. "But I want to." He looked Derek right in the eyes. "I want to." He moved forward and let his lips meet Derek's.

The contact was soft yet powerful that Derek, who was caught by surprise, could do nothing but take it. Not that he didn't want to, of course. He closed his eyes as he opened his heart, blocking everything out except the touch, the feel, and the sensation of the moment. He committed it forever in his memory, in a special place not hidden behind closed doors but rather somewhere he could always look, somewhere he could always return, somewhere that always felt like home.

As Charlie broke the kiss, he hugged Derek tightly as though trying to latch onto the last hope that moment, that act, would give. He then sprinted back up the steps to the building afraid to hear what else Derek would say or do.

Derek stood there watching Charlie run away. And then a part of him understood. A part of him saw all the craziness that was his mother's love and understood the words she had said not so long ago that expressed truly her love for his father. People in love do the craziest things. They look past the most unbearable flaws and find the goodness in the people they love. They are brought to do desperate things just so they can hang on for the person they love to come back.

Some things were worth waiting for. Some things were worth fighting for.

"Big C," he whispered in a voice far too soft to be heard by anyone.

Yet, Charlie stopped in his tracks. He stood frozen as a statue until slowly he turned towards Derek and looked straight into his best friend's eyes as though he had heard the soft whisper. For a moment, time seemed to change before them and they were young, they were eleven, and they were innocent.

"Promise me you'll wait for me, okay?" Derek said.

Charlie smiled and nodded like he understood what Derek had said.

Anyone watching the two would have known that it was impossible for either of them to have heard anything. They were too far apart. The noise was far too loud. Yet, anyone who knew them, truly knew them and everything they've been through, would have also known that in that small fragment of time, nothing, absolutely nothing, was impossible.

Derek smiled back before finally turning away from his best friend. The day seemed brighter as his steps brought him closer towards his uncle, a man he had never met before that day. He walked, like he had so many times before, to start a new life. He walked to live and to learn.

He walked so that one day he could, perhaps, return.


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