by Cynus

Chapter 1

It's All in The Family

The house was smaller than I'd imagined it would be. It hardly seemed capable of containing the strong spirit I'd witnessed in Clinton Fjeldsted. A boy as fearless as him should live in a mansion if he expected a home to be adequate to house his awesomeness.

But, then again, I suppose there was a humility to him which I had to also consider. He defended his friends without prejudice, and he was always putting himself between them and danger; he didn't feel his life was any more important than theirs. The humble home fit him, I decided, and it shouldn't have mattered much to me, anyway.

Though for some reason it did. For some reason I couldn't get the thoughts out of my head as I shuffled my way up the walk to the front door. I paused on the porch, my hand raised to knock as I stopped to consider where I was. This could be the beginning of the best relationship I've ever had, or it could be the beginning of another crushing disappointment. I'd had plenty of those, and I wasn't sure I wanted another so soon after the last one. But here I was, about to knock, and I needed to make the decision now if I was going to take the next step forward or run away.

My cane felt suddenly heavy in my hand, and I glanced down at it as I considered my decision. Constructed of dark wood with an ornately carved head of a bird, I'd used the cane for several years, a gift when I turned twelve. I hadn't grown much since then, another side effect of my defective leg, so the cane still fit me, and likely would for a while yet. I couldn't run, never had been able to, so why start?

I knocked, first three times, then twice more. Footsteps sounded on the other side of the door and I waited patiently for it to be answered. I expected to see Clint as the door opened wide, but instead it was his sister, Angela. She smiled at me and I returned the expression.

"Clint! Your date's here!" Angela shouted, startling me slightly. I'd understood this dinner appointment as a precursor to a date, a requirement set up by Clint and Angela's father. After a quick second to gather my thoughts, I realized it likely was exactly as I'd assumed, and Angela was merely trying to push Clint's buttons. They were siblings, after all, and if my own sisters were any indication of how siblings act, Angela likely did everything she could to get under her brother's skin.

Smiling politely, I set my cane down in the threshold of the door and asked, "May I come in?"

Angela turned back to me, her expression calm though her eyes held a hint of surprise. She expected me to be unnerved or embarrassed by her proclamation of this being a date, but she wasn't thrown off her game enough to let it get to her. The surprise faded from her eyes and was replaced with something I appreciated: respect. I was going to like her, and I knew she already liked me.

"Yes, of course you can come in. Clint will be down in just a second," Angela said, stepping to the side and pulling the door with her, opening it wide and allowing me plenty of space to get inside. I shifted my weight onto my cane and stepped through the doorway with my good leg.

I took a few more steps, clearing the small, linoleum entryway and stopping on the carpet, then turned to thank Angela as she shut the door after me. "Thanks for letting me in. It's getting a little cold out there."

"It is October, and we're at a higher elevation than I'm used to," Angela replied, nodding. "Where I grew up it usually didn't get this cold until early November."

"Where did you grow up?"

"Salt Lake City."

My eyes widened involuntarily. "Wow. What brought you here?"

"Work, and a bit of escaping memories," Angela said with a shrug. "My dad landed a great job with B&K Construction, but he wouldn't have been looking if he didn't want to escape the house we grew up in. I can't entirely blame him, either. Clint and I both understood."

I was surprised at how easily she was telling me all of this, but then I saw that look of respect in her eye again. Maybe, just maybe, she already trusted me, and I could live with that. From the little I knew about Clint, I was certain I wanted to be a part of his life in some way, whether as friends or more, and I was glad Angela seemed open to that possibility.

Before I could figure out what to say, heavy footsteps sounded from somewhere above me. I turned toward the sound in time to see Clint barreling down the stairs, a tornado of teenage energy. As he reached the bottom landing he tripped over his own feet, landing in a heap in front of me. I worried for a moment that he might've broken his arm again in his fall, which would be terrible considering he'd only had his cast removed yesterday.

I watched him as he sheepishly stood and attempted to brush the wrinkles out of his jeans, which by all appearances spent most of their time crumpled on the floor, before looking up to me with color in his cheeks. Shaking my head in wonder as I suppressed a chuckle I said, "Good to see you, Clint. Was beginning to wonder if I'd come to the wrong place."

Clint's temporary embarrassment immediately forgotten, he grinned roguishly and said, "We are at the wrong place, Zane. Angie and I broke in to make you complicit in our crimes. The cops should be arriving any second now."

I opened my mouth to counter his joke when a loud knock startled me and turned my full attention to the door. Through the semi-transparent white curtains which hung above the bay window, I could barely make out a single person standing on the doorstep, short, even shorter than me or Clint, with glasses and dirty-blonde hair. Travis Beauford.

I had a couple of classes with him, but I didn't know him well. I'd only learned his last name earlier in the week when I found out he was friends with Clint. It's not that I'd avoided him or didn't like him, he'd simply never attracted my attention. He was a quiet kid who never stood out, but I'd begun to notice him over the last few days. Travis was loyal, that much was clear, and he was also smart. He was doing better in his classes than I was in mine, and I'd held a 4.0 GPA since I started middle school.

He had a knack for the scholastics which I didn't, though I did my time to learn all I could about my favorite subjects, and worked hard in the ones I didn't have as much interest in. The only class in which his marks weren't higher than mine was in English, a secret passion of mine, but otherwise he was always above me when we received our grades. Rather than being upset or jealous, this fact only impressed me, especially since Travis had someone as gorgeous as Clint to distract him. Travis had said he was bisexual, didn't he? I wondered how he kept his hormones in check.

Angela opened the door and let Travis in, who gave her an awkward hug before walking inside the rest of the way. She blushed, Travis blushed deeper, and then Angela closed the door again before the room settled into an awkward silence.

It didn't last long as Clint opened his mouth again. He closed in on Travis, lowering his face to meet him at his eye level and growled, "Are you touching my sister inappropriately?"

Despite the color in his cheeks, Travis easily rebounded from Clint's intimidating yet playful glare. "Is there an appropriate way to touch her? I'm good as long as I get to touch her."

"What are you two talking about?" Angela growled, slapping both Travis and Clint on the back of their heads at the same time. With how close they were standing to each other, the slight force drove their heads forward and their foreheads collided. Clint and Travis each took a step backward, yelping in pain and rubbing at their foreheads as Angie stepped into the space between them and then toward me, ignoring their cries of anger. "Come on, Zane. We'll leave these two fuckers to their misogyny, shall we?"

"Misogyny?" Travis yelped. "I was just trying to be cute."

Angie snorted. "You're cuter with your mouth closed." She glanced at me and wiggled her eyebrows. "Trust me, Clint is, too."

"I'm sure I can think of ways to shut him up," I said, smiling mischievously as I met her gaze.

Angela giggled and rolled her eyes. "Sounds like the two of you are going to get along great." We shared a laugh as the other two regained their composure.

"What?" Clint said, straightening as he continued to rub his forehead. "What did I miss? What's so funny?"

I opened my mouth to reply when the sound of footsteps announced the presence of another person in the house. A tall man walked into the room from the kitchen, the scent of sweetness and cooking meat wafting in after him. He resembled Clint and Angela, albeit a much older version of them, and he turned questioning eyes toward his children before then directing them at me. His stare wasn't cold or even suspicious, but something about it put me on edge, as if he were quietly analyzing me, trying to determine what kind of person I was.

It made sense, of course. I'd been invited to dinner on the prospect of being allowed to date this man's son. Though I didn't have all the details about what happened between Clint Fjeldsted and Donny Sharp, I knew enough to understand Mr. Fjeldsted's wariness. If he only knew how little chance I stood of being able to rape anyone, he'd probably turn those eyes away quickly, but yet they lingered. I watched that piercing gaze move up and down, take note of the cane I leaned into and my small frame, and then he met my eyes at last.

"You must be Zane," he said, in a voice deeper than Clint's but soft and caring. He walked toward me and put his hand out for me. "It's good to meet you at last. Clint hasn't stopped talking about you for the past few days."

"Indeed, Mr. Fjeldsted," I said, taking his hand firmly and giving it a polite shake. I started to pull away but Mr. Fjeldsted held on for just a second as he met my eyes. It was only for a moment, but it seemed as if a lightbulb lit up over his head as his eyes saw me with new understanding. I retracted my hand and tried to keep my anxiousness out of my face. I didn't like people knowing things about me before I informed them myself.

Clint stepped up then and said, "Are we going to eat dinner? That's what we're all here for, isn't it?"

I smiled and him, just a slight upturning of one corner of my mouth. My whole life I'd had trouble smiling like a normal person, and this time was no different. As much as I loved Clint's enthusiasm, it wasn't enough to make me lose control over my reactions.

"Yes, I just finished carving the roast," Mr. Fjeldsted said, turning toward his son. "But I figured I'd greet our guests before we ate. It is the polite thing to do, but then again, you wouldn't know anything about that, would you?"

"I'm only as polite as I was raised to be!" Clint said, sticking his tongue out at his dad before wiggling his eyebrows at me. He reached for my hand and said, "Come on, let me show you to the dining room. After dinner, I'll give you a tour of the whole house!"

I let myself be pulled gently forward, past a bemused Mr. Fjeldsted who gave me another appraising look as we moved around him. I considered reclaiming my hand for balance, but Clint moved slowly, giving me plenty of time to use my cane properly. I had to give him points for paying attention to that detail, unless it was accidental. As of yet, I wasn't completely sure how perceptive Clint was.

Clint showed me the dining room and attached kitchen as Mr. Fjeldsted, Angela, and Travis all slowly filed in after us engrossed in a conversation of their own. As Clint went on about the food we were about to eat, I tried to eavesdrop on the other conversation at the same time, especially as Travis made some comment to Mr. Fjeldsted concerning 'keeping Clint's pants on tonight'. Intrigued but unwilling to cause a potentially awkward conversation, I let the comment slide.

In a short time, we all sat down to dinner, and then I truly began to learn what made this family so special. It was no wonder I'd felt a draw to Clint.

Mr. Fjeldsted began the conversation by asking both his children about their weekends. As a foreman in a construction company, he worked most of the week, and the weekend was no exception. Even though he'd been too busy to keep tabs on his kids at all times, he was now making sure to keep up on what they were doing.

This was a whole new experience for me. I'd heard of this happening in some families, even caught glimpses of it when I was at my other friends' houses, but Mr. Fjeldsted seemed to honestly care about what was happening in the lives of his children. Were there really fathers who did that?

"So, Zane, have you lived here your whole life?" Angela asked me, drawing me out of my introspection. I stared at her in a rare moment of being caught off balance. I recovered quickly, my same half-smile returning to my face.

"Most of it. We moved here when I was really young. I think I was three."

"What brought your family here?" Mr. Fjeldsted asked, picking up where his daughter left off.

"My mother's job," I replied, nodding appreciatively at Mr. Fjeldsted for the attention he gave me. "She's an archeologist, and she's worked on a number of different sites out here. There's a lot of Native American history buried in these hills."

Mr. Fjeldsted smiled warmly. "I'm sure. That's an interesting career." He nudged Clint with his elbow and asked, "What do you think, Clint? Maybe archeology would be good for you?"

Clint glared at his dad before turning to face me and shrugging. "It's interesting, sure, but I don't know if I'd have the stamina for it."

"You?" Travis guffawed. "You have a problem with stamina?"

As Clint stuck his tongue out at Travis, I jumped back into the conversation. "I think I can see where Clint's coming from. It's a lot of waiting when you're out there. My mother says it takes more patience than anything else. I don't think I could ever do it, either."

"Yeah," Angela snorted. "Patience isn't something Clint is good with."

"Angela . . ." Mr. Fjeldsted warned.

"Yes, Dad?" Angela asked, giving him an innocent smile. She yelped and glared at Clint, who scowled at her. I wondered what had transpired beneath the table, but whatever it was Clint did in his own defense, it endeared me to him further.

Mr. Fjeldsted shook his head and sighed, then returned his full attention to me. "What about you, Zane? Do you know what you want to be when you . . ." I started to wince, knowing he'd finish that sentence with 'when you grow up', and my respect for the man was about to diminish. Then, surprising me with rethinking his sentence, Mr. Fjeldsted said, "do you know what you want to study in college?"

"Astrophysics, probably," I replied easily. It wasn't entirely true. It wasn't what I wanted, but it was close enough to the real thing. "Maybe Aeronautical engineering," I offered secondarily, wanting to give the impression I was considering multiple options.

"Wow . . ." It was said by several of them, all at once, though I couldn't be certain of who, as my focus remained on Mr. Fjeldsted, who had mouthed the word at least.

"I was considering something with physics or mathematics myself," Travis interjected, earning a nod of approval from me as I turned his way. "I'm better at chemistry, though, so I might go that way instead. I mean, I like chemistry, but it's not something I'm passionate about."

I chuckled lightly at that, then replied, "Cool. You're beating me in math, so I'm surprised you say you're better at chemistry."

"I just do all the extra credit in math, so that's probably why you feel that way," Travis replied, shrugging. "I'm sure you understand it better than I do."

"Maybe we'll have to study together sometime," I suggested.

Even as Travis' eyes lit up and he opened his mouth to respond Clint scoffed, "Studying . . . who needs studying?"

"You do," Mr. Fjeldsted replied immediately.

"Dad," Clint said, avoiding his gaze as he stared down at his nearly empty plate. "I'm not good with school, you know that."

"Well, unless you get your grades up, I don't know if you're going to be doing much else."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Clint asked, anger slowly growing in his tone and expression.

I was moved to speak. "He'll get his grades up." Everyone turned to look at me, and I repressed the urge to bite my lip self-consciously.

"What?" Clint asked, his confusion apparent in how it replaced the anger he'd expressed a moment before.

"Mr. Fjeldsted." I directed my full attention to him, which helped to suppress the stage fright from the others' stares. "I'm glad you brought this to my attention. I'd be happy to help Clint get his grades up."

"I'll help, too," Travis offered, and I breathed a light sigh of relief that I was no longer the only one speaking. Clint didn't seem to know where to direct his attention, eyes wide with horror before turning a pleading look toward his sister.

"Don't look at me," she said, raising her hands in surrender. "I'm not failing, but I'm not a great student, either."

Clint shook his head and said, "That's not why—"

I didn't want him to figure a way out of this, and so I jumped back into it again and said to Mr. Fjeldsted, "I have every intention of asking Clint on a date, and I assume you want his grades up before he does anything like that?" Mr. Fjeldsted gave a combination of a slight nod and shrug, and I continued, taking that to mean he agreed with me. "Then in exchange for permission to date your son, I'll help him study, and by the end of the term I'll make sure he's improved."

"What?" Clint asked, recoiling from this discussion. "Don't I get a—"

Mr. Fjledsted and I turned toward Clint and said in unison, "No."

Clint slunk into sullen silence as Mr. Fjeldsted returned his attention to me. "Deal," he said, grinning. "You can date my son. I would've given you permission, anyway. I like you," he paused for effect. "So far. You're not planning on taking my son up any mountains in the middle of thunderstorms, are you?"

"Wouldn't dream of it," I replied immediately. Then, with my trademark half-smile I added, "Unless you knew in advance, anyway."

"Clint, it looks like you've got yourself a date. I approve of this one."

"Oh great," Clint mumbled. I'm dating my tutor."

I turned my smile on him. "Don't worry, it'll be fun."

Clint rolled his eyes and replied, "Said every lying teacher ever."

"Those teachers weren't me," I said.

At last I was rewarded with a smile as Clint replied, "Touché."

We all helped clean up after dinner. Travis and I brought the dirty dishes to Angie and Clint who put them in the dishwasher. Mr. Fjeldsted focused on putting the leftover food away, then excused himself to a side room which appeared to be the laundry room, leaving Clint and I alone.

After the dishwasher was started, Clint flashed me an eager grin, grabbed my hand and began pulling me toward the stairs. I let him lead me at first, though let go as we reached the stairs. I needed the added support of the railing to ascend with any degree of speed, and though I loved the feeling of his hand in mine, I didn't want to hold up traffic on the stairs forever.

He led me on a quick tour of the upper level, showing me where his dad's room, Angie's room, and the bathroom were located. Then he stopped in front of the last door and opened it, revealing the room of every other guy I'd ever known. Clothes were everywhere, and though I was certain Clint at least knew where the clean ones separated from the dirty ones, I knew I'd never be able to guess. He had a queen-sized bed, unmade and covered with more clothes. A large TV dominated one wall, with several gaming systems connected to it.

"So this is your room, huh?" I asked, taking a long survey of everything in sight. As messy as it was, it fit Clint as I knew him, and that made me like it that way. I took a step forward, careful to avoid planting my cane into anything that could slip out from under me. After choosing a path to the bed, I moved toward it and sat down.

"Yep," Clint said, surveying the room with a contented sigh. "Home sweet home."

A knock on the doorjamb drew our attention to Travis. "Hey, Clint?"

"Yes, Trav?"

"Your dad had a message for you," Travis said, walking forward and then standing on his tip-toes to whisper something in Clint's ear.

Clint pulled back, a scandalized look on his face. "What? He did not! I would never do that the first time a new friend came over!"

Travis' face lit up and his eyes radiated mischief. He held a hand to his face to suppress a snicker, then said. "Sorry, Clint. I had to."

"You little fucker," Clint said, shaking his head. He nodded toward the doorway All right, you had your fun, now go and give the same message to Angie."

Travis sighed. "As if she had any other ideas," he said, more to himself than to Clint. He shrugged and walked back to the doorway then turned around and waved. "See you, Clint. We're going to a movie."

"I figured as much," Clint said. "You've talked about going all week.

"Your dad's taking us," Travis added, his eyes flickering to me for a moment as a sly smile creased his face.

"Oh?" Clint asked, looking at me and grinning.

"Yep," Travis confirmed. "Seems he has a movie he wants to see which is playing at the same time. We gotta go, though. See ya."

Clint waved. "Later."

Travis disappeared and ran down the stairs, and Clint turned back toward me. He looked uncertain for just a moment, but then he made his way easily over the piles of clothing and sat down next to me on the bed. His hands rested on his knees, as if he didn't know where else to put them.

"What was that about?" I asked, wondering about the whispered secrets from Travis.

Clint looked at me strangely and said, "My dad's leaving us alone as he takes Angie and Travis to the movie theater."

"I got that part, genius," I replied, rolling my eyes. "I meant the message."

Clint bit his lip uncertainly and looked away. "Oh. That."

My eyes widened at first, then narrowed. "I don't care for secrets, Clint," I said carefully. "Unless they're pleasant surprises. Even then . . ."

"Travis told me to keep my pants on," Clint said in a rush, then turned to me while holding his breath.

I nearly laughed, but managed to keep it under control. Clint looked scared of my reaction, and I didn't want to offend him. "Why?"

"He knows I hate wearing pants," Clint explained. "So does my dad."

I raised an eyebrow. "Your dad hates wearing pants?"

Clint laughed at that then explained. "No, he knows I hate wearing them."

"Ah, I see," I said slowly. My usual smirk returned and I nodded to myself as I processed what Clint was saying. "And they're worried you're going to take your pants off."

"Yeah. I usually just sit around in my boxers. I even do it when Travis is here, too."

I let my hand fall to the bed between us, then reached out with my finger and stroked the side of Clint's jeans lightly. He shuddered and I said quietly. "I don't mind. If I knew you a little better, I'd probably help you out of them."

"You flirt easily, don't you?" Clint asked, glancing down at my hand before meeting my eyes. His glistened in the dim light of his room, and I wanted to swim in those eyes forever.

"Only with cute boys like you," I said, inclining my upper body toward him. The sound of the garage door opening below us signaled Mr. Fjeldsted leaving with Angela and Travis.

"Well," Clint said, leaning toward me so our faces were almost touching, "now we're alone."

"We are."

He leaned forward and then to the side, whispering into my ear, "I want to kiss you."

"I want you to," I whispered back.

"But . . ." He said, pulling back all the way and meeting my eyes. The moment began to fade away in that look of uncertainty he wore.

"Yes?" I asked. I wanted to be disappointed, but something told me I should be patient with Clint on this one. I knew what had happened with Donny, and I'd expected some hesitation from him.

"I don't think I should, not yet," Clint replied.

"Why not?" I asked, keeping my tone steady.

"I realize we have this time alone, but . . ." He sighed and reached out for my hand, then took it gently in his own. He stroked the back of my hand with his thumb, and then he met my eyes again. "I'd like to spend this time getting to know you, rather than kissing you. You interest me."

Now that he said it, it didn't sound bad at all. Actually, it almost sounded better than kissing. "I can live with that," I said, smiling my half-smile.

"Really?" Clint asked, his eyes lighting up.

"Yes, but . . ." I said, leaning forward and putting my mouth near his ear.

"But what?" Clint whispered.

"If you still want to kiss me," I said quietly. "I wouldn't mind ending the night with one, but I'll let you determine if that's something you want or not."

"Deal," he whispered back. And then he surprised me with a hug, pulling our bodies together the rest of the way. It was a bit awkward, the way we were twisted to the side, but I liked the feel of his body against mine. I liked the warmth he gave off. Warmth. Yes, that's definitely what I thought of Clint.

When we pulled away, Clint was blushing, and I knew I had to take the lead if I wanted to save him some awkwardness. I desperately wanted to save him from anything I could. I cleared my throat and said. "So, what do you want to talk about?"

He glanced at his television set and said, "I like to get to know someone over a nice round of video games."

"Excellent," I replied. "What shall we play?"

"Do you like FPS's?"

"Doesn't everybody?"

In the end we didn't end up talking much, but we did get to know each other. There's a certain level of understanding which develops between two people who play games together. You may not learn their secrets, their life story, or even much about their lives at all, but you do learn their quirks, their facial expressions, and the way their mouth dimples when they think. Clint was beautiful in his expression, even if he was terrible at the game.

His dad came home and reminded him it was a school night, and after Clint protested about having to say goodbye, I made it easy on them both by pointing out I had a curfew as well, and I needed to be heading home. Mr. Fjeldsted offered me a ride, but I insisted I wanted to walk home. Even with the cooling October temperatures, I enjoyed night walks, and rarely had the opportunity.

Clint walked me out to the porch, and we stood there for a moment in the slight chill. I hesitated, unsure if he wanted to kiss me or not. After a moment, I simply said goodnight and turned away from him, then began walking away. He surprised me by bounding off the porch after me, stepping in front of me and then kissing me hard on the mouth. I pulled him into me as well as I could with my one free arm, extending the kiss.

When he pulled away from me, he winked and then darted around me and into the house, calling out a 'goodnight' before stepping through the door and closing it behind him. I pressed my fingers to my lips and then glanced back at the house in wonder. I noticed light coming from one of the upper rooms and looked upward, catching the eyes of Mr. Fjeldsted looking down at me from his room. He nodded at me in approval, a wry grin on his face, and then waved goodnight before turning away from me and closing his window. I shook my head and smiled, then started on the long walk home.

I loved October. I loved everything about it, and now that I was walking in the cool fall air, I dreamed of what the coming weeks would hold for me. My birthday was next weekend, a fact I'd kept hidden from Clint so far, and then Halloween would be in a few weeks. I loved Halloween more than anything, and had always been happy that my birthday was in the same month.

Now, as I walked down the roads toward my house and saw all the different decorations in the yards I passed, I thought of that kiss and how I hoped I'd get another from Clint on Halloween. I wondered what his costume would be, I wondered if he'd be interested in celebrating with me. I hoped he would, and I hoped my parents would let me host the party forming in my mind.

My mind remained occupied with planning said Halloween party until I arrived at my house and found it mostly dark. There was a small bit of light coming from the corner of the house, where my father's study was located. I sighed, knowing that meant he was probably the only one home.

My key turned in the lock and I stepped inside and into the gloom. Shadows stretched long in the entryway, adding to the oppression I felt whenever I was home. My house was spacious and grand compared to Clint's, but I'd rather return there then spend the night here.

"Hello, anybody home?" I called out.

"Come into the study, Zane," My father called back.

I shambled down the hall toward his study. The door was cracked open and dim light shone through. I pushed open the door and saw my dad sitting in a big armchair reading a book on astrophysics, staring down at it through his thin-rimmed glasses. "Dad?" I questioned.

"Where were you?" He asked without looking up.

"I was out with a boy," I replied, leaning against the doorjamb.

He snorted, but still didn't look up. "Is your homework done?"

"Yes," I said quietly.

"Get ready for bed," he replied, then turned a page in his book. He was reading as he spoke to me. "You have school tomorrow, you know."

I remembered Mr. Fjeldsted, and the attention he showed Clint and Angie. I ached for it, more than anything. "Dad, don't you want to know about my day?" I asked, emotion threatening to take over my voice.

"What's there to hear about?" My father asked, looking up at last. His face remained stony and expressionless.

"Well," I said carefully, "Maybe you'd be interested in hearing about the boy your son spent his night with. I really like him."

He shook his head and returned his eyes to his book. "I don't have time for that. You should spend your time on something important."

Tears came unbidden to my eyes, but before I could say anything else, a door opened somewhere in the house and the sound of little feet scurrying toward the study distracted me from my thoughts. My nine-year-old sister, Kaitlyn, came running down the hall and into the room. "Dad!" She cried as she saw our father.

"Kaitlyn!" my father said, putting down his book as she jumped into his lap. He smiled wide and wrapped his arms around her before kissing her forehead. "How's daddy's little girl? And what did you do today?"

"We played softball in the park," Kaitlyn replied.

"Oh?" my father's face lit up. "Who's we?"

"Julie and Chelsea," Kaitlyn replied, naming my two older sisters. "They taught me how to pitch."

"Oh, is that so?" My dad asked, chuckling. "Well I think that's just great. Did you get any hits or . . ."

I didn't listen any further. I leaned into my cane and started down the hall, wanting to get as far away from my father as possible. With any luck, I'd dream of being somewhere far away, with a different father and a different life.

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