by Richard Norway

My heart ached as I watched the trucks and cars pass under me. They mesmerized me like the sounds of a snare drum in the back of a band, one by one, swishing their way on their journey. I didn't know where they were going, and I didn't care.

They had no idea I was above them, watching them, hypnotized by the symphony of repeating sounds so welcome to my ears, filling me with the sound of whining tires on concrete pavement.

It would be so fantastically easy to forget my despair, to discard any regret, to forget the pain and the heartache. I could think of no other ending to Steven, Steven, Steven. I looked down again and wondered why he had forsaken me so cruelly. I believed in my heart that our love was to the end of eternity, and I wondered why. Why had he broken our trust and slept with another boy? A boy that I had never known.

"I don't think you want to do that," I heard from beside me.

I turned toward the voice. It was a guy I'd never seen before.

"Fuck off," I said to him. "This is none of your business. Leave me alone."

I stepped over the rail, balancing myself on the top.

"Probably not wise what you're thinking," he said.

I turned to him. He looked to be about my age of sixteen.

"What the hell do you know?" I shouted back at him. "You don't know me!"

"Nothing. I don't know anything about you. I don't know what you're going through, and what was so bad that you're thinking of doing what I think you're thinking of doing."

"You don't know shit.' I said to him.

"Wanna tell me?" he said and stepped one step closer to me.

"It's none of your business."

"You don't know me, do you?"

"No, I don't," I said. "Maybe if I told you, you'd know me better."

"Yeah, right. Why in the hell would I want to know you at all? You're nothing to me and my problems."

This strange boy looked down at the pavement for a moment, then looked up at me.

"Because I've been where you are," he said.

"I doubt it."

"You're gay, aren't you?" he asked. "I can see it in your eyes, your clothes, the way you do your hair. My gaydar is screaming to me about you. I know why you're here. I know, because I've been here myself."

That caught my attention. I turned and sat down on the railing facing him. My back was to the roadway below, and if I were to do it, I'd just lean back and fall, just like Bobby did.

"What'd you mean you've been here yourself?" I asked him.

"Well, it was probably ten feet further south from where you're standing, same bridge though. Same idea."

Now, he had my complete attention.

"But you didn't jump?" I asked.


"Why not?"

"You want me to tell you? I will if you want me to."

"I do," I said. This kid was interesting me.

"Okay. First, though, I want you to get down off the railing. Then, I want you to sit with me here on the bike path, just the two of us."

I didn't know if I could trust him; I didn't know him, and I hadn't trusted anyone for a long time.

"I know what you're thinking. I had the same thoughts when someone approached me, like I did you, when I was about to jump. I didn't trust anybody."

His half smile was starting to give me confidence that he wasn't going to do anything to me.

He held out his hand to me, and I looked at it for few moments.

"If I come down, what are you going to do to me?"

"I'm going to sit with you and talk; that's all. I have no intention of hurting you."

I looked at his hand for another moment before I took it and slid off the railing.

He released my hand and sat down with his legs spread out in front of him, leaning back against the railing.

"Sit with me, please," he said to me.

I sat next to him just far enough away so our bodies wouldn't touch.

"My name's Keith. What's yours?"

"My name's Ryder," I said. "So, what happened to you?"

He looked at his shoes and wiggled them and then looked straight ahead.

"I had a boyfriend who cheated on me. He was seeing another boy without me knowing it. When I confronted him, all he did was laugh at me. I was incredibly upset with him, but after he laughed, I didn't know what to do or say to him. So, I went home. It was dusk, like it is now, and I cried the entire way, thankful the darkness hid my tears. I had never felt so alone before in my life."

"Keith, that's exactly what happened to me," I said. "My boyfriend cheated on me."

Keith looked down at me for a moment.

"That's the reason I was on this bridge that night. I was going to do what you were about to do. I felt trapped in a life not worth living and didn't know anyway of trying to go on."

"So, what happened to you? You're still here."

"Something amazing. A boy about my age came along unexpectedly, pretty much like I did to you, and talked me out of it. He was so full of life, and I wanted what he had. His name was Keith, and we became friends. I had walked here that night, and he offered to walk with me home. I must have talked his ear off on the way to my house, telling him all of my problems and how I didn't know how to handle them. He hardly said a word to me, but I could tell he was listening."

Three months had passed from the time I tried to kill myself. My life had taken a magical turn-around, and it was all because of Keith and my dad. Eventually, I began to trust people again. My dad is a professional psychologist, and he helped me bootstrap myself out of the deep depression I was in. He finally led me to believe that there aren't any problems that can't be solved, if one looked at them logically. That was my eye opener, and I began to see possibility for myself.

Keith stayed with me the entire time of my awakening. He kept saying he believed in me, to the point where I started to believe in myself. Being depressed is dauntingly difficult to fix by yourself. Dad helped me just suck it up and be open to his professional help.

Keith and I became closer and closer until one day last week, he asked me to be his boyfriend. I knew it was going to happen someday, and the day he asked me, put me over the top with joy. Life truly is worth living.

I had to cross that freeway overpass with Mom and Dad every time we went shopping or to eat at Keith's and my favorite place for food, In-N-Out Burger or Mom's and Dad's favorite, Texas Roadhouse.

We had finished an early dinner at Texas Roadhouse and were on our way home when we crossed the overpass once again. It always reminded me of my time facing death, but it wasn't somber anymore. It was now an uplifting remembrance.

As I was looking out the front window of our car, I noticed a boy standing where I had stood many months ago. He looked like an average boy until we passed him, and I had a good look at his face. He was me those months ago. The look of desperation on his face told me what he was about to do.

"Dad!" I yelled him. "Stop the car and let me out."

"I can't stop on the overpass," Dad said.

"You'd better let me out right now. That boy back there is going to jump."

"How do you know that?" Dad asked.

"Because I've been there, as you well know. I know the signs."

Dad turned on his emergency flashers and stopped the car for me.

"I'll turn off the road up ahead and wait for you. If you need my help, call me on your cell," Dad said.

I jumped out and started walking toward the boy. This was déjà vu for me. I had been where he was right now.

He didn't notice me as I approached him. His face showed his determination as he climbed on top of the railing.

"I don't think you want to do that," I said to him, remembering what Keith had said to me.

"Mind your own business, and leave me alone," he said.

"I wish I could, but I can't."

"Just fuck off and get away from me."

"I know what you're going through," I told him.

"What do you know?" he angrily asked. "You know nothing about me."

"I do because a few months ago I was on that rail about to do what you're thinking of doing."

He turned his head to look at me.

"Evidently you didn't have the courage, or you wouldn't be here right now."

"Oh, I had the courage, but someone came up to me, like I'm doing to you, and talked to me."

"He talked you out of it?"

"No. We talked and I talked myself out of it. I'd like to talk to you."

"You don't know me. Why would I talk to you?"

"That's for you to decide. I've been where you are. I had problems that I couldn't face either. If you want, I can tell you what I was going through. It's probably similar to what you're going through."

I think I now had his attention because he turned to me and sat down on the railing.

"What do you want? You don't know me. You don't even know what I'm going through."

"And you don't know me either, so we're even. What I want to do is just talk to you, that's all. I would like for you to tell me what's happening to you, why you're at the end of your rope. Remember, I've been through this before myself."

I reach out my hand to him. He looked at it for a moment.

"I'm not going to hurt you or try to talk you out of anything. That's your decision, not mine," I said.

He continued to look at my hand. I knew he was reaching a decision point.

"We can sit right here on this bike path and just talk, that's all."

He finally nodded, took my hand and slipped off the railing.

I let go of his hand and sat down on the concrete, leaning back on the railing.

"Have a seat," I said to him.

He sat next to me, looking at me while he sat.

"You don't know me, so, you're probably wondering if you can trust me."

Trust has to grow on you over time. I knew I wouldn't have his trust right away.

"What we talk about is just between you and me, no one else. What's your name?" I asked.

"My name's Colin, Colin Danforth. What's yours?"

"My name's Ryder, Ryder Tillerman. You live around here?"

"Just a few blocks over on Mary Lane."

"That's not very far from me. I live on La Rue Way."

"So, you probably go to El Cajon Valley like I do. I'm sixteen."

"Yeah, I do, and I'm sixteen, too." I said.

"Why are you talking to me?" he asked.

"Because someone talked to me, and I burdened him with my troubles."

"Was he a friend of yours?" he asked.

"Not back then, but now, yes. His name is Keith, and he's become more than just a friend to me."

"You really want to hear what my life is like? It's not pretty."

"Probably just like mine wasn't. But, yes, I'd like to hear about you."

Colin looked down towards his lap and didn't look back at me when he spoke."

"So, I guess you know at least a bit about how I feel."

"I do because I was where you are."

"Can I tell you what I've been dealing with?"

"I'm listening, Colin."

"It all started when my mom and dad got divorced about a month ago. I didn't understand why, and they wouldn't tell me why. I asked who I was going to stay with. And that's when my troubles really started; neither of them wanted me. They said I was too much to handle, and I was put in a CPS group home. I don't know if you can understand the depths of my depression; my family didn't want me.

"I was beaten many times by the older kids because they thought I was gay. One time, the home sponsor had to call in a nurse to help stop my nose from bleeding."

I was looking at Colin the entire time he was telling me this. He couldn't seem to hold it in as his tears ran down his cheeks. I put my arm around him and drew him into me, and now my tears started.

"It's okay, Colin. You're with me now," I told him.

He leaned away from me and looked me in the eyes.

"You really mean that? You don't even know me."

"I'm getting to know you better than you think," I said. "Do you have any friends, you know, people you can talk to?"

He looked down again before continuing.

"Ryder, I'm alone. I don't have any friends."

"No one?" I asked.

"No. Well, there is one guy. His name's Jake. We've known each other since the third grade. He's the only person that would ever talk to me."

"Sounds like you two were close."

"Very," he emphatically said before he continued.

"I really couldn't concentrate on anything except thinking about losing my parents and my home. I'm good at algebra, but today I failed an easy quiz. And then after school that fucker, Henry, my supposed boyfriend, dumped me like I was nothing to him. I didn't know what to do or where to go. Well, I did know where to go, and here we are."

He wrapped his arms around me and cried on my shoulder. I thought about him while he cried until only brief sniffles came out of him.

"Are you gay?" I asked him.

He didn't answer me right away but continued to look at me.

"Am I that obvious?"

"Not really, except that the boy who left you was named Henry, and my gaydar has been going off ever since I met you."

"Yes, I'm gay. I figured it out two years ago."

"My boyfriend's name is Keith," I told him.

"Keith? he asked me. "That's the guy who saved you, isn't it? Now he's your boyfriend?"

"Yup," I said to him.

"I kinda thought you might be gay. Maybe that's why I'm beginning to trust you."

This boy had it worse than I did, and he must have decided there was no way I was going to leave him here alone.

"Colin, come home with me tonight. I think you need a good dinner and a good night's sleep. I'll be with you the entire evening, and we can talk some more, if you'd like."

"Why are you doing this?"

"Because that's what I needed after Keith found me."

I helped him up until we were both standing, and we left the I-8 freeway overpass and headed to my dad's car. I didn't think he needed my help in walking the short distance, but I kept my arm around his waist, just in case.

I called Keith and asked him to be sure to be home and meet us at my house.

When we reached our car, I introduced Colin to my folks and explained that I wanted to take him home with me tonight.

"Mom, Dad, Colin's been through a lot today, and I think he needs a place to calm down and feel safe tonight."

Dad looked at me and nodded his head, knowing what I had gone through and what Colin might be going through right now.

"We've just had an early dinner, Colin, but I can rustle up something for you," Mom said.

"Thank you, Mrs. Tillerman," Colin said from the backseat.

It didn't take too long before we got to my house. It was a typical home for the area; three bedrooms, one bathroom, not a very large living room and kitchen, and no dining room. But we did have a swimming pool in the back yard.

Before Colin and I entered, I gave him some information about my mom and dad. I told him Dad was a psychologist with his own practice, and Mom was a stay-at-home homemaker. I also told him he was about to meet my boyfriend, Keith Ryerson.

I think he was a little nervous about meeting my boyfriend. I was pretty sure it was because he had just broken up with his.

Keith was just coming out of the kitchen when he noticed us. I motioned him by zipping my lips that I didn't want him kissing me. I wasn't sure how Colin would react to seeing us being personal with him having just come out of a bad relationship. Keith frowned but nodded his head in understanding.

"Colin, this my boyfriend, Keith Ryerson. He's the one that saved me that night."

"Like you did me tonight." Colin said.

I looked at Colin and noticed trepidation on his face. I left Keith and walked over to Colin.

"Don't be nervous, Colin. My dad's a psychologist, remember? He's dealt with everything you're going through with his patients," I whispered to him in his ear. "And Keith understands what you're going through. He was there for me."

He raised his head and looked at me, determination now showing on him. Then he turned to my dad.

"Mr. Tillerman, you should know that I was going to try to kill myself tonight. The reason I'm standing here right now is because of your son. We talked, and he convinced me to try something else. He convinced me that I really wanted to live; not by telling me what to do, but just by listening to me."

Colin's eyes were wet from what he told my dad, with tears streaming over his cheeks.

Dad looked at me for a moment and then went to Colin and wrapped his arms around him.

"You're one brave young man, Colin, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise," my dad said to him. "I'd like to talk to you about what's been happening to you, but not now. I can see you're pretty upset, so let's find a time that works for you."

"Thank you, Mr. Tillerman, I'd like that. After talking with Ryder, I feel much better."

Mom had stayed quiet during Colin's and Dad's conversation but then spoke to Colin.

"Why don't you come to the kitchen with me? I have some leftover meatloaf and mashed potatoes with gravy for you. If you have a sweet tooth, there's some apple crisp that I made yesterday."

"Ah, I haven't eaten since lunch," Keith said.

"Well, get your butt in here too. I've got plenty," Mom told him.

Keith and Colin followed Mom to the kitchen while Dad signaled for me to sit with him in the living room.

"Tell me a little of what you know about Colin."

He's hurting, Dad. So much has happened to him that I think his depression is worse than mine was."

"Tell me what's been happening to him," Dad asked me. So, I told him everything Colin had told me.

"Do you know how many red flags you raised by telling me all that?" Dad asked. "I can see why he tried to end his life today because I counted seven red flags. He probably saw no way of dealing with all that's happened to him."

"Dad, can we do anything for him?"

"You've already started the process by becoming his friend and confidant. I think he trusts you, and that's a major step forward. Do you know which group home he's staying in?"

"He never told me."

"Okay, I've got to call CPS and have them re-activate my foster license and tell them that Colin's going to be staying with us for a while. Then we need to turn the storage room back into a bedroom for him."

"So, we are going to help him," I said as a statement.

"I've never had a live-in patient before, well, except for you, but you're family. I need this one to be nearby. He's really fragile right now, and the sooner I can work with him, the sooner he can start living again. I'll have CPS gather his things and hopefully deliver them tomorrow some time.

"Did I ever tell you what an amazing dad you are?"

"Flattery will get you everywhere, you know."

He turned from me and started making his phone calls.

Colin and Mom returned from the kitchen, and Colin came right over to me.

"Hey, Ryder, your mom's a fantastic cook. Even though it was leftovers, it was the best meatloaf I've ever tasted."

"Better get used to it, Colin. You're staying here for a while," Dad said to him.

"Staying here? I don't understand."

"I've worked it out with CPS, and you're now our foster kid."

Colin's face showed questions. "For how long?" he asked.

"For as long as it takes. Colin, I want to work with you. I'm taking you on as my patient, and we have a lot to talk about."

Colin looked at me.

"Colin, I want my dad to help you. You've been through a lot of shit lately, and he can help you deal with it. And besides, I want you here. I'm looking forward to having my new friend around," I said to him.

"I'm your friend?" Colin asked.

"Of course. It should be obvious to you by now."

"And I'm your friend too," Keith added.

I gave Colin my best smile.

"And now you have to put up with both of us. Just don't let Keith push you around like he does me. He can be overbearing sometimes."

"Colin, I don't push him around. It's the other way around. He thinks he's the boss," he said to Colin.

"I don't push you around, Keith, except when you don't do what I tell you to do."

"See what I mean, Colin? You'd better get used to him," Keith added.

Colin was full of smiles.

"You guys do that kind of banter a lot, don't you?"

"Constantly," Dad said. "You'd think they were already married."

I looked at Keith, smiled at him and hoped it would be true someday.

"Colin, there's a few things we need to do to get your bedroom set up, which Ryder and Keith will get started on. I can see you've settled down, and I've got some time right now, if you'd like to talk to me about what's happened to you. We can go in my office for some privacy," Dad said to him.

"Can Ryder come in with me?"

"Unfortunately, no. This will just be between you and me. Not to mention he's got your room to work on."

Colin shrugged his shoulders in acceptance.

Dad and Colin left to go to Dad's home office.

"Come on, Keith. I need your help moving the bed, dresser, and desk from the garage. But first we have to move all the junk that's in there back to the garage.

It wasn't hard work though, even if the box spring and mattress were cumbersome. We had it set up in no time. Mom made up the single bed for him.

After an hour with Dad, Colin came back to us.

"Your dad is fantastic. He only asked a few questions, but I felt so comfortable with him that I talked and talked and talked. I told him everything about me, including about being gay. It didn't faze him one bit. It seemed that he was accepting me for who I am."

"I think he wants you to be who you are and accept yourself. He did that with me," I said to him.

"Yep. He made me accept who I was, too," Keith said. "He's already sort of like a second dad to me."

Colin looked at both of us for a moment and then shook his head.

"Why are you two like this? I've never really had friends before, and now I have two."

"We're not just some acquaintances to you, Colin," Keith answered. "We care about you."

"You really do care about me, don't you?"

"Yes, we do, Colin. We care about you because you're a human being and deserve to be treated like one. And besides, we've already grown to like you, despite only knowing you a short time," I said.

"Having friends like you is new to me," Colin said looking back and forth at both of us.

"What about Jake?" I asked.

Colin looked down for a moment and then returned his eyes to us.

"He's the exception. I guess I have three friends now."

"Just don't let Ryder tell you what to do," Keith said laughingly.

"Wanna see your room?" I asked.


I led him down the hallway to the last room and opened the door for him; we all walked in.

"Wow!" Colin said as he looked around the room. "This is bigger than I had at home. And I had to share a room with another boy at the group home."

The room looked bare without there being any of Colin's things around. There were no books in the bookcase and no computer on the desk. I noticed him looking around the room.

"Don't worry, Colin. CPS will be bringing your stuff here tomorrow. Do you have a computer?"

"Yeah, but it's in storage along with my bike at the group home. We weren't allowed to have them in our room. I think they were afraid someone would steal them and sell them for drugs."

"You got beat up there, didn't you?" Keith asked.

Colin lowered his head.

"Yeah, a couple times. Once they pantsed me and shoved me outside."

"Didn't the house parents do anything about that?" I asked.

"Not much. They lectured the other boys, but that was about it."

"That's just not right," Keith said. "They should have been punished."

"That's all over for me now. I'm here!" Colin said with a smile.

"That's the first time I've seen you really, really smile, Colin," Keith said.

"I haven't wanted to before."

"I like seeing you smile," I said to him.

"Why don't you get some sleep? We're all pretty tired. Keith and I will be in the next room if you need anything."

"You guys sleep together? Your mom and dad let you?"

"They know that we're boyfriends, and they know teenagers, so, they know we're going to sleep together," I said.

"I wish I had a boyfriend," Colin said looking at the floor.

Dad had told Keith and me that we should always be positive when talking to Colin.

"Don't worry, Colin. You will someday. Just make sure it's the right guy for you this time. You're so nice of a guy that other gay boys will be all over you to be their boyfriend."

"Someday," he said without a smile or conviction.

Keith and I left the room to give Colin privacy to get undressed and hop into bed. We then headed to our own room.

I sat on our queen-sized bed and looked up at Keith.

"So, what do you think of Colin?" I asked him.

"I think he's hurting more than he's letting on. He tries to hide his depression, but it still shows. Notice how he doesn't smile much? This is a new world for him; different from what he's used to. Like your dad said, we need to keep reinforcing that we care about him, that he has worth."

"When did you become a psychologist?" I asked.

"Ever since you tried to do what Colin was trying, and your dad and I talked. He taught me a lot."

"We should get to bed too. It'll probably be a busy day tomorrow since we have a new kid under our wing."

"Yup," I commented, and we both undressed and climbed into bed together.

"Wanna cuddle?" I asked him.

"Don't we always?"

I turned away from him, and he snuggled up to me, putting his arm over me, drawing me into him.

I was almost asleep when I heard a soft knock on the door. I sat up, pretty much knowing who it was.

"Think it's Colin?" I asked Keith.

"I don't think it'll be anyone else."

I got out of bed and opened the door. Sure enough, it was Colin.

"Ryder, I'm sorry if I woke you."

"What's up, Colin? Can't sleep?"

He seemed nervous to me.

"Come in. You wanna talk about something?" I asked.

He looked at me in my boxers. He was also just in his boxer underwear.

"I'm sorry. I should go," he said, half turning to leave.

I grabbed his arm to stop him.

"No, don't go. We wanna hear what's bothering you."

He looked at Keith, lying on his half of our bed.

"This is embarrassing."

"What is?"

"Ryder, I felt so alone in my room. I was wondering if I could sleep with you guys, just for tonight."

I looked at Keith. He grinned and nodded his head.

"Just for tonight?"

"If you don't mind. Just till I get used to things around here."

"Come on in here," I said, pulling him into the room and closing the door. "You can sleep between Keith and me."

He walked into our room, slid under the sheet next to Keith leaving me room in my side of the bed.

"Comfy?" I asked him.

"Listen, guys. I know you're both gay, but that's not the reason I'm here. I just need your friendship right now."

Keith turned over and looked into Colin's eyes.

"You have that in aces," Keith said to him. "Don't feel ashamed. Ryder and I like you. Underneath all of your troubles, it's easy to see you're basically a good guy. We're going to be friends for a long time."

Colin turned towards me, and I saw him smile for the second time today.

"That goes for me too," I said to him. "Now get some sleep."

Colin turned onto his back, his smile not leaving his face.

I awoke the next morning and felt bodies crushing me. Colin was cuddled next to me with his arm over me. But to my surprise, Keith was on his side cuddled next to Colin with his arm over both of us.

I slowly lifted their arms from me without waking them and slipped out of bed. It was early, but it was a school day, so getting up early had become a habit for me. I dressed and went to see what Mom was making for breakfast. I could already smell bacon frying. Dad was awake, enjoying his second cup of coffee.

"How'd you and Keith sleep last night? Yesterday was a trying one for all of us," Mom asked.

"Keith and I slept like logs, but…"and I turned to Dad" … we weren't alone."

Dad looked up at me.

"Oh?" he said.

"Colin slept between us last night."

"I figured he might. Being thrown out of his home like he was, he probably needed reassurance that he was still loved, and he turned to the only two people he knew loved him."

"That's what Keith and I figured."

"You'd better get them up, anyway. Breakfast will be ready in ten minutes," Mom said.

"I'll try, but they were sound asleep."

I wasn't going to tell her what position they were in when I left them.

When I returned to my bedroom Keith had moved over so they weren't touching. I shook Colin's shoulder. Keith sat up, looked at Colin and grinned.

"Breakfast's almost ready, so showers will have to wait. Better get dressed," I told them.

Mom had a great breakfast ready when we entered the kitchen: bacon, fried eggs, hash browns, toast with marmalade and orange juice. I was wondering what Colin was going to think when he saw the spread. I didn't have to wait long to find out.

"Wow!" he said, when he came into the kitchen. "You guys always eat like this?"

"That's because we have a guest. Usually, Mom makes porridge for us," I said. "On special occasions, we get gruel."

"Hey, I do not!" Mom said. "Usually, you guys get a good breakfast. I've never made gruel, ever."

"Just kidding, Mom."

"We forgot to warn Colin that we only have one bathroom. We need to coordinate a schedule for when we used it. And be quick on showers so we don't run out of hot water," Dad said.

"Colin, you're new here, so, you should go first," Keith said to him.

I just love it when Keith takes charge, but it's alright cuz he's family anyway.

After breakfast, the three of us met back in my room.

"Colin, you only have the clothes you were wearing yesterday. You and I are about the same size, so, I'll lay out some clothes for you. Towels are in the linen closet in the bathroom. There's a new toothbrush in the drawer next to the sink, and you can use my hairbrush. It's in the same drawer," I said.

"It's okay if I go first?"

"Just don't use all the hot water," Keith reminded him.

He had a towel wrapped around himself when he came back to my room. Sorry," he said. I guess he was getting comfortable using our bedroom.

"Clothes are on your bed," I said.

He shyly looked at us.

"Sorry," he said and grabbing the clothes I laid out for him, headed to his bedroom.

"Ryder, we can't let what happened last night becoming the norm. I think he may be getting too close to us," Keith said.

"I thought of that too, but I still feel sorry for him."

"You know what they say about tough love, it hurts but it must be done."

"You're right, you know. He sleeps in his own room tonight," I answered him.

"We'd better get ready for school before we're late. You're up next for the bathroom."

"We could shower together, you know, to conserve water."

"No. If Colin sees us together like that, it's going to bring back bad memories of him being dumped. He doesn't need that right now."

"It was just an idea, but I know, you're right."

"You're such a perv, you know."

"Yeah, but you love me for it," I giggled back to him.

After we dressed and were ready for school, we realized Colin didn't have his bike, so Dad drove us to school that morning.

"You going to be okay today, Colin?" Dad asked before we got out of his car.

"I'm going to be all right. Ryder's doing a decent job of watching over me."

"Okay. But we'll need another session when you get home from school this afternoon. We still have a lot to work on."

"Thank you, Mr. Tillerman. You've already been a lot of help to me."

We told Colin we'd meet him for lunch and parted company, heading in our own directions. My morning classes went smoothly, as I had expected. I met up with Keith when lunch period began, waiting for Colin.

"Have you seen him this morning?" I asked Keith.

"Just once when we passed in the hall. He seemed happy enough."

"There he is," I said as I was watching out for him.

"He doesn't look as good now as he did earlier. Something's happened to him."

I could see the frown on his face as he approached us.

"What's the matter, Colin?" Keith asked him.

"Nothing, really."

"Get off it, Colin. Something happened to you this morning. What gives?"

"Some CPS people were in the office this morning asking about me. They said they were just following up on their paperwork for my transfer. I guess your dad told them why I was being transferred. A student overheard them, and evidently, the news spread that I tried to off myself.

"I got harassed about it in my last class."

"What did they say?" Keith asked.

"One of the guys that bullied me before said that I was too chicken to complete the job that should have happened long ago. He said he didn't want a fag in his school."

"Are you out at school?" I asked.

"I didn't think so. I've never told anybody here."

"Fucking high school idiots," Keith said.

We finished our lunch in silence, but when I glanced at Keith, I could tell he was fuming. Keith had a temper, and I'd seen it go off twice since we'd been together. Both times it was over something I considered trivial. Dad had worked with Keith to help him manage his anger, and it'd really helped him. I guess he'd used the tools Dad taught him to help control himself. But today, Keith's reaction to Colin being bullied went right to the heart of Keith's caring nature. His friend was being bullied, a kid who was fragile to begin with. Keith knew how to fight and wasn't afraid of being hit. I knew that if something happened to Colin, Keith would go ballistic.

It was difficult for me to concentrate on my afternoon classes because my mind was focused on Colin and the possible danger he might be facing from the bullies in school. My fears were well-founded when we went to our gym class at the end of the day.

We were divided into teams to play basketball, a sport I hated. I wasn't good at sports that required teamwork. I preferred games like tennis where I was on my own.

About ten minutes into the game, I looked up to see Grant Presley push Colin so hard that Colin went down. Grant then went over to Colin and said something to him that I couldn't hear. I walked over to help Colin get up, and I saw something on his face that confused me. I expected to see anger at being pushed down, but I didn't. What I saw was fear.

Keith came up to me while I was helping Colin and must have also noticed the fear in Colin's eyes. He shook his head and walked away, but I could almost feel the rage building in him.

Colin was pushed down by Grant two more times during our game until coach had to pull Grant aside and caution him about his behavior. They had words that I couldn't hear, and it ended with Grant storming off the court.

I was sitting with Colin while we were changing back into our street clothes after showers when Keith came over and sat next to us.

"Colin," he said. "You need to be careful of Grant. I think he's got it in for you."

"No shit!" Colin responded. "He's had it in for me ever since I was a freshman."

"Do you know why?" I asked.

"It's because he believes I'm a faggot. He keeps using that word to me."

"Dad's going to pick us up after school today. You stay with us until he gets here," Keith said.

As we walked out of the gym building, Colin stopped us.

"I've got some homework I need to get out of my locker. You go ahead, I'll only be a minute." He turned around and walked back into the school.

"I don't like him being alone," I said to Keith.

"He'll be alright. He's in the school and nothing's going to happen while he's in there."

Just then, Dad called me, telling me he was going to be a few minutes late.

Keith and I waited outside the school, wondering what was keeping Colin. He should have been back by now.

Both of our heads turned when we heard sirens. It was an ambulance turning onto a side street leading to the back of the school.

"Oh, fuck," I heard Keith yell as he turned and headed toward the ambulance, following it.

I immediately took off after Keith.

The ambulance stopped beside a fence just outside of the school's soccer field. What I saw scared the crap out of me. There, beside the fence, was a body lying on its side on the ground. I intuitively knew who it was.

The EMT people were already leaning over the body when we arrived. We weren't allowed close to Colin and were told to stand back. What I saw almost made me puke. Colin's face was covered in blood, not just in one area, but all over. He had his eyes closed, but he seemed to be breathing.

One of the EMT people came up to us.

"Do you know who this guy is?"

"Yes, we do," I answered. "He's a foster kid living with us."

"What's his name?"

"It's Colin Danforth," I answered.

"You'd better call your parents. We're taking him to Kaiser Permanente in San Diego."

"Is he hurt that bad?" I asked.

He looked at us for a moment.

"It's not good," was all he said and hurried back to help put Colin on a gurney and into the ambulance.

The ambulance hurriedly drove off, the screaming sound of its siren claiming the neighborhood.

I called my dad.

"Where are you? I've been waiting outside the school," he said.

"You'd better come around to the back of the school. Colin's been hurt. The ambulance just drove off with him, and we're back here."

"I saw the ambulance drive by. Was Colin in it?"

"Yeah. They're taking him to Kaiser Permanente."

"Is he hurt bad?"

"I think so."

"I'll be there in a minute to pick you up," he said and hung up.

In the car, Dad called Mom to tell her where we were heading.

"Your mom's worried sick right now," he said to us. "She wanted to drive to Kaiser, but I told her not to, yet. We don't know Colin's condition, so we'll call her when we get more information."

Keith was in the back seat while I was in the front passenger seat. I turned to look at him. His face was dead slack, looking out the window.

"We know who did this, don't we?" he said to the side window.

"I have a good idea," I said.

"When I find him, he's dead, you know."

"Keith, don't be thinking rash thoughts right now. Remember what Dad taught you."

He then looked at me, and I saw the tears in his eyes.

"You saw what he did to Colin. Christ, blood was all over him. I can't get that picture out of my mind."

"Let's wait. This is something for the police to manage."

"Ryder's right, you know," Dad said. "This is something for the police."

Keith lowered his face into his hands, his sobs growing louder. Then he looked up.

"I know you're right and I need to calm down," he said to my dad.

"Let's take this one step at a time," Dad said. "First thing is to find out how badly Colin's hurt."

The drive to Kaiser only took fifteen minutes as traffic seemed light this afternoon. When we got there, Dad let Keith and me out at the emergency entrance while he parked the car. It didn't take us long to find the reception desk and ask about Colin.

"He's being taken care of right now," she said. "Please have a seat, and when we know more, someone will be out to talk to you."

I looked toward Keith as he slammed his fist into his other hand.

"Take it easy, Keith. We'll know more shortly."

Just then, Dad walked in, saw us, and headed in our direction.

"Know anything yet?" he asked.

"Not yet," Keith answered. "They're working on him now."

"Let's have a seat. This could take a while."

We waited, not patiently, but on edge until a man in a white smock approached us.

"Are you a parent of Colin Danforth?" he asked Dad.

"Yes, I'm Dr. Tillerman, his foster parent."

"Medical doctor?"

"No, I'm a psychologist."

"When this is over, I'm sure he's going to need your services. But before I can talk to you, I'll need to see some kind of placement order."

"It's in my wallet."

Dad showed him the CPS placement order. After reading it, the doctor walked over to the receptionist desk.

"Scan this and have it entered into Colin Danforth's file, please."

He then returned the order to Dad.

"Dr. Tillerman, I'm Doctor Keating. Your boy was savagely beaten. He was unconscious when he was brought in, and we almost lost him. We've been able to stabilize him though. He's in the emergency OR right now because his left kidney had ruptured, and I'm afraid we're going to have to remove it. It appears that he was kicked several times on his left side and has sustained a couple of broken ribs. His facial injuries, although looking worrisome from the amount of blood, were minor and will heal. It's his kidney we're worried about. He's also sustained a blow to his head and has a concussion. He'll be in the OR for quite some time. Because this is the result of an attack, we've had to contact the police. This appears to be criminal, but that's for them and the prosecutor to decide."

"Thank you, doctor," Dad said to him and then looked toward Keith.

Keith had sat back in the chair with his hands over his face. He was crying, obviously from what Dr. Keating had told us.

Dad sat next to Keith and put his arm around him.

"It's going to be okay, Keith. I know Dr. Keating's reputation, and he's a good doctor. Colin's in good hands right now."

Keith looked up at my dad.

"You don't understand, Mr. Tillerman. Ryder and I have already grown to love him. How could someone do that?"

"I don't know, Keith, but we're going to find out."

Dad called Mom to bring her up to date with what Dr. Keating had told us. Then Dad called CPS to let them know about Colin.

"She's on her way here," he said. "She's a mother and there's no way to keep her away from her new son."

Keith, trying to lighten our moods, said, "I guess our mom has three sons now."

Hearing that almost made me cry.

Colin was transferred to the ICU almost three hours later. When we were admitted to his room and could finally see him, he looked like a mummy. He was almost completely covered in white gauze bandages, but I knew he was still alive; his monitors kept beeping.

Mom had joined us over two hours ago.

"He's still under the anesthesia," Dr. Keating told us. "He should be coming out of it momentarily."

I looked at what I could see of his face; he looked so pale.

Keith went over to his bed and put his hand over Colin's.

"You get better, you hear. That's an order," he told him.

I could tell Keith wasn't in his command mode from his watery eyes.

Keith then turned around and almost stormed out of the room.

Dad put his hand up to me to stop me from following Keith, and instead, Dad followed him.

"I know your dad's a psychologist, and right now I think Keith needs his advice," Dr. Keating said to me.

I didn't know what to do. I wanted to be with Keith, but I knew Dad was the one to talk to him. Mom sure knew what to do. She came over and wrapped me in her arms.

Fifteen minutes later, Dad came back into the room with Keith right behind him.

"Let me have your attention, please," Dad said to us.

Dad looked at Keith for a moment and saw him nod his head.

When the room quieted down, Dad continued.

"My talk with Keith this afternoon was just between him and me. After we had our conversation, Keith gave me permission to tell you what he's going through.

"Keith's had a minor setback in dealing with his anger, and it has to do with what's happened to Colin. Colin means more to him than he's let on, and his anger shifted from who did this to Colin, and onto himself. He believed that it was his fault what happened to Colin, that he hadn't protected him enough.

Dad looked to Keith, who nodded his head again.

"This is not uncommon. When tragedy strikes, people want to find someone or something to blame. Unfortunately, as it was for Keith, that blame shifted from the person or persons who caused the tragedy to the person dealing with the tragedy. I believe I was able to convince Keith that he shouldn't blame himself. Keith is just a normal boy trying to grow up."

I saw Dr. Keating nodding his head at all Dad had said. I then let go of Mom and moved to Keith and wrapped my arms around him. He didn't cry, but rather put his head on my shoulder and held me tighter than he had ever before.

"I have to leave you now. I've got a few more patients to check up on this evening. Have the nurses call me when he wakes up," Dr. Keating said as he left the room.

Shortly after the doctor left, I looked over at Colin and saw that his eyes were trying to open. They were fluttering as he was trying to focus on where he was.

"Mom, I think he's waking up," I said to her.

She glanced at Colin, I guess to confirm what I had said, and then left the room. I saw her through the large window talking to someone at the nurse's station, probably informing them that Colin was waking up.

Moments later, Dr. Keating was back in the room. He used a small pen light to probe Colin's eyes and then asked him to follow his finger as he moved it back and forth.

"Can you hear me, Colin? Do you know where you are?"

"Yes. No." he said.

"You're in a hospital recovering from what happened to you."

"What happened to me; I can't remember."

"Someone attacked you, and we're trying to help you get better."

Colin's face turned from bewilderment to absolute terror as his lips trembled. I knew he was starting to remember what had happened to him.

Keith and I stepped up to him, one on each side of the bed. We each took hold of one his hands.

He looked up at us one at a time and seemed to recognize us. I thought he was going to smile, but he didn't. His lips started trembling even more, and the wailing scream that emerged from his mouth was terrifying, echoing the beating that he had suffered.

I reached my arms out to hug him, but Dr. Keating grabbed my arms, holding me back.

"Not now," he said. "I don't want his ribs moved just yet for fear of him puncturing one of his lungs. Maybe in a day or two."

I saw Keith back up to the door, his face in anguish. Dad rushed over to him.

"Let the doctors do their job, Keith" he said to him. Colin's going to be alright, trust me."

Dad then turned to us.

"I want you boys to go home with mom," he said.

"I wanna stay," Dad. "He needs us now."

"I wanna stay, too," Keith said.

"No. Let Edith drive you home. You need to get out of here… now," Dad told us.

I saw Colin's body start to shake.

"NOW!" Dad yelled at us.

I turned to Dr. Keating for some help.

"Go! Let us do our job," he said to me.

I turned and opened the door, but before I went through it, I turned to look at Colin; his panic seemed to be getting worse.

I heard Dr. Keating ask my dad if he wanted him to give Colin a sedative.

"No," he said. "Colin needs to go through this catharsis, right now. I'm going to be with him to make sure he doesn't hurt himself in the process."

I closed the door, knowing that I might be closing the door on Colin forever.

The ride home with Mom and Keith was a somber journey. I didn't speak because I didn't know what to say. Keith was also quiet, probably as wordless as I was. My head was filled with dread after seeing Colin's breakdown. I wanted things to turn out right for him but feared the worst.

"Boys," Mom said to us. "I know what you're going through right now, but you've got to keep one thing in your minds. Colin is in your dad's hands right now. Your dad really knows what he's doing. There will be a positive outcome for Colin; trust me on this."

I looked at Keith and saw a slight smile cross his face. I, too, began to smile at Mom's words. She's just like Dad, I thought, always keeping a stiff upper lip and a super-positive outlook.

"Thanks, Mom," I said.

Keith looked at me and then reached for my hand. He held it there for the rest of the trip home. Keith was my rock, my comforter. I loved him so much, and his hand showed me how much he loved me.

Dad never called us that evening. I knew he was still at the hospital with Colin, otherwise he would have.

As we were sitting down to a very late dinner, tragedy struck again. Mom got a phone call from a neighbor friend of hers'. I listened to the one-sided phone call.

"Oh, my God," she said. "When did this happen?"

Silence followed.

"Was Colin a friend of Jake's?" she asked.

Silence again.

"How are you and Pete taking this? Is there anything I can do?"

More silence.

"Of course, Maryanne. Clark would be more than willing to help with therapy sessions for you and Pete."

"Okay, I'll let the boys know."

She closed her cell phone and turned to us but didn't say anything as tears fell from her eyes.

"Jake killed himself this afternoon," was all she said.

"What?" I yelled out. "What happened?"

"Jake hung himself in their garage. They didn't find him until a couple of hours ago."

"Does anyone know why?" Keith asked.

"Sort of," Mom said. "He left a note pinned to his shirt. All it said was that he couldn't live his worthless life anymore."

I then knew why Jake did it. He was always a quiet kid, a lonely kid, never joining any of us. I knew he had been harassed at school; I saw it happen many times. Jake's sense of self-worth didn't exist. Jake had only one friend at school, and that was Colin. I wondered how we were going to break the news to him. I was sure it was going to devastate Colin. He didn't need this with what he was already going through.

"They are going to try to get a memorial service at the school the day after tomorrow for Jake," Mom said.

"How are his mom and dad doing? They must be beside themselves. Jake was their only child," I asked Mom.

"Not well, I'm afraid. They're pretty broken up and are going to ask your dad to help them get through this."

I looked at my dinner getting cold in front of me and knew I wasn't going to eat any of it.

"Mom, I think I'm going to my room. After hearing about Jake, my stomach can't take food right now."

"Me neither," Keith said. "I'm coming with you."

"It's okay, boys. I'm not very hungry either," Mom said. "Go on then."

We headed to my bedroom, not speaking, the mood unfit for any conversation.

Keith and I quietly lay on our bed next to each other until I turned to him.

"Keith, I don't understand why this is happening so often."

He then turned to me.

"Yes, you do, Ryder. It happened to me to you and then to Colin. Parents don't relate to their kids like they're supposed to. They don't listen to them to know the hurt they're feeling, to understand the depression they're going through."

"I thought Mom and Dad knew how I was feeling," I said.

"Did you ever tell them how you were feeling?"

"I guess not. I thought they should just know."

"How would they know if you didn't communicate that to them?"

I turned over on my back and watched the ceiling.

"Teens are afraid of those kinds of conversations with their parents. They want to grow up and be an adult; they think they can handle it themselves, I suppose," I said to Keith.

"Your dad told me that families work well together when they can communicate with each other. Usually the support is there, but the need has to be expressed."

"I guess I should do more to be open with them."

"We all need to, Ryder. Get some sleep. We both need it right now."

I rolled back toward Keith and put my arm over him. We didn't even get undressed; just slept like that.

It was 2:00 AM when Mom knocked on our door. I knew it was her by the way she knocks, two short knocks followed by two more. I looked down, remembering that we still had on our street clothes.

"Come in, Mom," I said.

"Your Dad called. He's on his way home, now," she said as she opened the door.

I jumped out of bed.

"I want to be awake when he gets home. I want to hear how it went with Colin."

"I told him about Jake," she said.

"How'd he take it?" Keith asked as he sat up.

"He was mad."

"Mad at who?" I asked.

"He was mad at Jake's parents for not knowing how Jake was feeling. If they did, Jake's suicide might well have been prevented."

Parents feel more of a responsibility than I ever imagined, I thought to myself.

When Dad got home ten minutes later, I could tell he was exhausted.

"How'd to go with Colin?" Mom asked.

"Let me get a cup of coffee first, then let's sit down, and I'll tell you all about it," Dad said.

"I'd like some, too, please," Keith asked.

Of course, I had to have a cup too, even though I didn't often drink coffee.

We sat around the kitchen table.

"Everything with Colin went well. He screamed and cried almost the entire evening, remembering what had happened to him. I let him cry because he needed that. It's wonderful how crying actually helps a lot. When he was finished, he was exhausted. But he had gotten it all out. I think he finally made peace with himself. He asked me if he could hold my hand, and I let him. He watched me for a moment, before saying, 'I'm such a crybaby, aren't I?'

"I told him he wasn't. I told him it was a good thing that he was able to let his emotions out, and that now he could put it behind him and move on."

"Is he going to be alright?" Mom asked.

"He's going to be fine. I think what he did tonight helped him toward recovery, and maybe to grow a little."

Dad turned to me and Keith.

"He talked about you guys tonight. Don't worry, it was all good, and I got his permission to tell you what he said."

"Am I still overbearing like he said I was?" Keith asked.

"No. What he said was that you two are his best friends and that he loves you. He said you've helped him more than you know. He was a little disappointed that he hadn't seen Jake in a few days, though."

"What have we done?" I asked.

"Nothing much except you were there for him when he was doubting himself and needed that friendship."

I was feeling proud of Keith and me, that we could make a difference in someone's life.

"Oh, I forgot to tell you. Colin had a visitor last night. They wouldn't let him see Colin because it was well past visiting hours. I went out to see who it was. It was a boy about Colin's age, and he was crying. I asked him who he was, and he said his name was Toby. I told him who I was, and that I was taking care of Colin."

"Toby asked me if I was the doctor Colin had told him about? I told him I may be, that I'm not a medical doctor, rather a psychologist trying to help Colin through what had happened to him."

"Toby then emphatically told me that he has got to see Colin. I asked him why he has to see Colin at this late hour."

"Because he needs to know something about me, and he needs to know it now, Toby answered."

"I was curious about this boy now."

"I asked him what Colin needed to know about him that was so urgent."

"He turned around and looked away from me. When he turned back to me, I could see he was crying again."

"Colin needs to know I love him. I've always loved him, Toby told me in between his sniffles. I looked at Colin and thought it would be good for him to hear that he was loved by yet another."

"Alright, I said to him and told the nurses that it was alright for him to see Colin, and that I would still be in the room."

"He walked in with me and immediately went to Colin's side. Colin looked up at him."

"Hi Toby, Colin said to him. I'm glad to see you. Toby looked over at me and then back to Colin."

"Colin, I know it's late, but I've got to tell you something, Toby said to Colin. What is it, Toby?' Colin asked. Again, Toby looked at me."

"I don't know how to say this, but I have to, Toby said to Colin. What? Colin asked. Again, Toby looked at me and then back at Colin. Colin, I love you. I've always loved you, not just love you, but I'm in love with you, Toby said with tears in his eyes. Colin then smiled at him."

"This floored me; I hadn't expected this from Toby. It sounded so sudden"

"I know, Toby. I've always known, Colin said back to him. You did? Toby then asked. Yeah, for a long time. Why didn't you ever tell me? And what about Henry? Colin asked him. I thought you were dating him. Because I was chicken, just like you were. And what about Henry? Colin asked him." He's an asshole who dumped me, Toby responded. I know he was, hell everyone knew he was, Toby responded. But I wasn't out at school, Toby told Colin."

"'Maybe, but a lot of people suspected," I heard Colin say."

"Toby looked back at me for the hundredth time."

"'I don't care if you see this, sir, but I'm going to kiss him. I need to, Toby said to me."

"I told Toby I needed to go the bathroom and would be right back and walked through the door. I looked back through the window and saw Toby eyeing the bathroom in the room. He smiled at Colin and then they put their lips together. My heart went out to what I was seeing. I think Colin needed that as much as Toby did."

"Before Toby left, he turned to Colin and smiled. Colin returned the smile. That was when I walked back into the room."

"Colin had already laid back, trying to sleep again."

"Toby then looked at me. Thank you, Mr. Tillerman for what you just did, Toby told me. I've always wanted to tell him how I felt about him. You gave me that opportunity, he said to me. Toby then asked me that when Colin woke up, he'd like to be there, too, and he gave me his address."

"I took Colin's hand I mine. I let Colin sleep after that. I tried to let his hand go, but he kept waking and gripping my hand tighter. He didn't want to let me go, so I stayed with him until just a little while ago, still holding his hand."

"When he wakes this morning, he's going to want to see you two, and if you can, bring Toby along with you. I've asked the nurses to call me when he wakes up," Dad said.

Colin slept most of the morning, so the nurses called my dad and said Colin should be getting up fairly soon. Dr. Keating was going to be making his rounds shortly and wanted Colin awake.

We climbed into Dad's car and first picked up Toby. Then we were off to the hospital. Colin was still asleep when we got there, but he was stirring. I figured he'd be awake shortly.

Dr. Keating walked into the room and looked at Colin.

"He's still asleep?" he asked no one.

"We were up late," Dad said to him.

"Everything work out?"

"Better than I hoped for," Dad answered. "Colin's got himself under control now."

Colin stirred and woke up then. He looked around the room, and his eyes grew larger when he saw us standing at the foot of his bed. Then his eyes bulged when he saw Toby standing behind us.

"Come over here, Toby. Let me look at you to make sure you're really here."

Toby walked around us and took Colin's hand.

"See, I'm real," he said.

"No, I need more convincing."

"You sure? There's a lot of people here."

"There's only one way I can be convinced that you're really here."

Toby eyed the group standing around.

"You sure?" Toby asked Colin again.

"I'm waiting," Colin said.

Toby bent down and planted his lips on Colin's.

I saw Dr. Keating's eyes grow larger at what he was seeing.

They parted their kiss and the smile on Colin's face wasn't just nice to see, it was exhilarating to see him so happy.

Toby looked up at us.

"Mind if I butt in? I really need to see my patient," Dr. Keating said.

We all moved apart to let the doctor through.

"How're you doing this morning?" he asked.

"I'm good, never felt better, well mostly," he said as he looked at Toby, again.

Dr. Keating looked at Toby.

"I can see that," Dr. Keating said as he looked back at Colin.

"Do your ribs still hurt?"

"Not as much as they did yesterday. You've got me pretty well trussed up."

"'Trussed' is a pretty big word for a teenager."

"Ryder's teaching me how to talk and use bigger words."

Dr. Keating looked at me and smiled.

"I'm going to send you for another scan. I want to make sure that concussion isn't going to give you any trouble."

I walked over to Dad and whispered in his ear.

"Do you think we should tell him about Jake?"

Dad thought for a moment.

"I think he's ready. It's going to be hard on him, but I think he's stable enough to hear it."

"Can I tell him?" I asked.

"If you want to. It might be better coming from you than from me."

I looked down at Colin.

"Colin, I have some really sad news to tell you."

"What?" he asked looking up at me.

"I don't know how to tell you this, so I'm just going to come out with it, but Jake killed himself yesterday."

"He WHAT?" Colin yelled.

"He hung himself in their garage. His folks didn't find him for a couple of hours."

Colin looked at my dad and spoke directly to him.

"Tell me, Dr. Tillerman! Tell me why the fuck that happened?"

"You can probably guess why, Colin. He was in the same boat you were in only a short time ago."

"Jesus, when will this ever stop?" he asked. "I knew Jake; we were good friends."

"I'll tell you," Keith spoke up. "It'll stop when parents start listening to their kids, start to understand what it's like being a teenager and start to understand the depression that's consuming those kids. This can be stopped; you know, when parents and even friends understand what's troubling them. They have to be open to their kids. And kids have to be open with their parents."

Keith now had tears in his eyes.

"Well put," Dad said to him.

Colin rolled over and cried into his pillow, somewhat from the pain in his ribs, but mostly he was crying for Jake.

"We've gotten word that there's going to be a memorial assembly for him in school tomorrow," I said.

Colin rolled back to us when he heard me, flinching somewhat from the pain.

"Dr. Keating, you'd better get me fixed up, cuz I'm going to be there."

"I don't think that's advisable. You're in no shape to be up and moving around. Your eyes are still half closed; you can barely see anything. Don't forget that we had to remove one of your kidneys. You've just been through major surgery. This is not advisable; you could do damage to yourself."

"I don't give a shit, doctor. I'll sit in a wheelchair if I have to. And I don't need to see well; I won't be reading anything."

I've never seen Colin so worked up, so forceful, so determined. He was going to go come hell or high water, no matter what the doctor said.

"Dad, Mr. Tillerman, I mean, would you call the school and tell them I'm coming. I want to be on that stage."

"That's fine with me, and yes, I'll call tomorrow morning early."

"Edith wants to have an early dinner since we've missed lunch, so we should get going," Dad reminded us.

"I'm staying with Colin," I said.

"I am, too," Keith spoke up.

"What about food?" Dad asked.

"Give us a couple of bucks, we'll eat here," I said.

"I'm staying, too." Toby spoke up. "I need to be with my new boyfriend."

Colin looked at him.

"Damn right you are," he told him.

I could tell Colin was still on an adrenaline high from being so adamant; telling the doctor what to do.

Dad gave Keith, Toby, and me each a five-dollar bill. Food was fairly cheap at the hospital.

Dad and Dr. Keating left the room together, but I could hear Dr. Keating ask my dad how he was going to tell Colin he cannot leave the hospital. Dad's only answer to him was, "You can try, but it won't work, but I will make sure he comes back as soon as this event is over."

Colin was fairly quiet for the rest of the afternoon, with us all spending companionable quiet time together, alternated with some video games on my handheld device. Around dinner time, I had to ask him.

"Are you going to speak at the assembly? Have you thought about what you want to say?

"Ryder, that's all I've been thinking about ever since your dad told me about Jake and the memorial assembly. It's all in my head aching to get out."

"You realize that Toby knows who attacked you? Dad told me he told you while you were in the hospital."

"I know; he told me. Didn't you, boyfriend?" Colin said as he looked toward Toby."

"Are you going to go after them?" I asked.

"No, I'm not. I'm listening to your dad, and I'm going to let the police handle this, after giving them whatever I can remember clearly. That's what they're trained for, not me."

Keith looked at Colin.

"Bravo," he said to him. "I guess your head really is on straight, despite the lump."

We went to bed early that night and talked for a short time.

"What's happening with Colin, anyway?" Keith asked. "I've never seen him like this, super positive.

"I've never seen him like this before, either. But I see it as a good thing."

"Good thing? In the hospital, Colin beat the crap out of you in the video games you were playing. You wanna get beat again in a game you usually win?"

"No, but right now whatever he wants to do, he's going to do it."

We woke the next morning with the memorial assembly foremost in our minds.

"I wonder if Dad's made his call to the school, yet? It's after 8:00 and someone should have been there by now."

"Let's go and find out," Keith said.

Dad was still on the phone when we entered the kitchen.

"You, bet. We'll be there," I heard him say as he closed his cell phone.

"Was that the school?" I asked.

"Yes," Dad said. "They are excited that someone who has been through what Jake has probably been through is willing to come forward to tell everyone about it."

First period, home room, dragged on until the teacher mentioned the memorial assembly.

"It's right after this class, so when we're done with attendance, I want you all to head to the auditorium."

Keith and I headed to the auditorium, a little anxious to hear Colin. There were four people seated on the stage: the principal, vice principal, school counselor and Colin, who was seated in a wheelchair on the left. There was a man in a white smock standing behind Colin.

Colin didn't look at all nervous, and still had that determined look of his face.

The principal, Mr. Cosgrove, stood and approached the podium.

"Thank you all for coming on this somber occasion. You all probably know that Jake Hendricks took his own life the other day. I, for one, am sorry to see him go like that. Something must have been seriously bothering him to do what he did. I want to find out what that was. For that, I've asked another student to come forward to explain it all to us. His name is Colin Danforth. I'm not going to say anything more. Let's hear Colin speak, Colin…"

I watched Colin wheel himself to the podium. His jaw was set on his stony face; not a smile on him.

"Thank you all for coming," he started to say but wasn't heard until the school counselor adjusted the microphone to Colin's level.

Colin continued, now able to be heard.

"I think some of you know me, but a lot of you don't. My name's Colin Danforth, and I've been in this school since I was a first-year student. You may not recognize me now because I've been beaten up. My doctor didn't want me to come today, but I had to. What I need to say is important, not just to you, but to your parents as well. I wish they could've been here.

"I'll start with an announcement. I'm gay. I don't think many of you knew that. As a side note, it's why I was beaten up. But that's not what's really important here. That's not what I want to talk about. What is important is what you think about something. I want a show of hands about an important question: who among you feels alone even in your own home?"

There were no hands raised.

"Get off it," Colin almost yelled. "I had the courage to get up in front of you. I want to see some courage in you now. Raise your hand if you feel alone even in your own home!"

One person in the back row raised his hand.

"Look at him," Colin shouted. "I don't know him, but he just showed what a man he is."

Colin was getting sharp-tongued.

"Raise your hands if you've ever felt alone in your own home."

Three other kids raised their hands, quickly followed by a dozen more.

"Feels like shit, doesn't it?"

Colin turned to the faculty behind him.

"I may swear some more, so you better get used to it. I want their attention focused on what I have to say."

Colin turned back to the audience.

"I felt like that, too. The only family I had ever known abandoned me. Know what's that like? It makes you feel worthless. I want another show of hands. How many of you have ever felt worthless?"


"Come on! Have some courage. Show me what you're made of. None of you are alone in this, I promise you."

Several hands went up.

"I'm just like you and all of the rest of you who didn't raise your hands. Because of the way I felt a few days ago, I almost took my own life."

Gasps could be heard around the auditorium.

"I was going to jump off a freeway overpass into the oncoming traffic…until a hero came up to me. Does anyone of you know a hero?"

All heads shook.

"Well, you'd better. Look around you. Look at each one of you. Every one of you is a hero in the making, whether you know it or not. When you say 'hi' to someone you don't know and make them smile, you're a hero. When a friend is upset and crying and you put your arm around them, you're a hero. I want to tell you about my heroes. Stand up Ryder and Keith."

I didn't know what to do, and I didn't know if Keith did either.

"I told you stand up. Get your asses out of those seats."

Keith and I stood up following our tyrant's orders.

"Thank you, guys. Look at them," Colin said. "They look like just ordinary guys, don't they? But they're not. They cared enough about me to have the courage to help me get through the toughest time in my life. They're my heroes and always will be. Every one of you needs a hero in your life, someone you can talk to openly. And this goes to the foundation of what I need to say to you.

"How many of you trust your parents? How many of you can talk to your parents and tell them why you feel alone in their home, why you feel worthless? I know some of you do because you raised your hands earlier."

No one raised their hands this time.

"Tough question, isn't it? It makes you think about your home life. I can tell you this: if you can't openly discuss your feelings with your parents, you are ripe to commit suicide. It's true; I've been there.

"But it's not all your fault. Many parents are so wrapped in their own lives that they tend to forget about you, or they're afraid to talk to you openly. I didn't have what you can have. I didn't have parents to talk to me."

I could see that Colin was getting emotional as his eyes glistened. I looked at Toby and saw the same reaction.

Toby got out of his seat and walked to the stage, tears flowing down his cheeks. He climbed the side steps and walked over Colin, putting his hand on his shoulder.

Colin turned to him.

"I'm with you, Colin; know that."

Colin then turned back toward the audience.

"All I had was my two hero's, Ryder and Keith and now my boyfriend, Toby, to talk to. Many parents don't know their kids' feelings about anything. They don't know how depressed you feel or how worthless you feel sometimes.

"This is where you come in. You have got to get your fucking parents to talk to you".

Colin turned around.

"Sorry, Mr. Cosgrove," he said and then turned back.

"You need to tell them how you feel. Families work well together when they communicate… openly. You have got to do this."

Colin's emotions were seeping through his eyes.

"I love every one of you. I want you here tomorrow and the day after."

Toby leaned over and grabbed Colin and hugged him, not wanting to let go.

Mr. Cosgrove came up to Colin.

"That was the most heart-wrenching speech that I've ever heard. I've recorded it, and I want every parent of these kids to listen to what you've said. Is that okay with you?"

"Yes. They need to hear it. They're to blame for a lot of kids committing suicide."

Colin turned to face the audience. It was dead silent until one girl in the second row stood and started clapping. Within moments the entire audience was standing and applauding.

I was proud of Colin before; my pride for him right then knew no bounds.

Colin took Toby's hand, and they left the stage. Colin rolled down the ramp at one end of the stage and up the aisle, looking back and smiling at Toby who was smiling back beatifically as he pushed Colin up the aisle while the students all stood to let him pass by.

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