Castle Roland

Everything Will Turn Out Alright

by Cy-Kun


Chapter 28

Posted: N/A

I never really understood how suspension was supposed to be a punishment. I mean, you're being told NOT to come into school. Always seemed like suspension should have been a reward to me. Get an A on your final? Good job, kid! You're suspended! Enjoy! Best gift ever. But now that I AM suspended, I kinda got it.

First of all there is NOTHING on TV while we're at school. It's all just talk shows and soap operas and those Judge Judy rip offs like Divorce Court and Texas Justice. There's even one called Christina's Court. CHRISTINA'S COURT! When I saw it on the TV Guide channel I thought it was a parody or something. You know, like Reese Witherspoon plays a stripper who wins a law degree in a raffle or something. But, no, just another boring ass judge show.

Second, teachers must have piles of secret work just laying around waiting for some kid to get suspended because there is no way that all this crap that my mom came home with on Thursday is just three days of normal work. THREE freaking essays! Seriously? THREE. What the fuck? There has to be a law against that.

I bet Christina would know.

So with all that and the fact that Reach gets pretty boring when no one you know is home to play with you, I was so done with being suspended. Thank God Vicky was able to come over after school or I'm pretty sure my mom would have came home to find me laying in a gross, boneless heap of mush after all my insides melted away from sheer boredom.

But now it was Sunday night. After a really amazing weekend of not only almost never leaving the bed but practically clinging to each other the entire time Vicky had just left like an hour and a half hour ago with Jack and I had nothing to do again. I lay on my bed, spinning a pillow on my finger like it was a basketball (a lot easier than it sounds) trying really, really hard not to think about anything. Tomorrow was Monday, the last day of my suspension and the day before the custody hearing with my dad. I'd pretty much blocked it out for the past few days. There wasn't really much room in my head for anything else but Vicky and complaining about the horrible, soul killing boredom but now that it was only like a day and a half away I was starting to freak out again.

What if my dad does get me? What if he ships me away and I never see Vicky again, or worse, if I DO see Vicky again but my head is so fucked up that I can't remember how to love him? What if there actually is an evil, homo hating judge that throws my mom in jail for letting me and Vicky sin under her roof? I let the pillow drop onto my face and let out a frustrated moan.

So much for not thinking about it.

Ok, ok, ok. I'm probably overthinking this, like I sometimes, occasionally, every once and a while, tend to do. Most likely nothing would happen, right? The judge would have to see how completely wrong my dad is for me and not let him have any part of my life. Yeah. Definitely. If I could just keep positive thoughts like that in my head until Tuesday I'd be perfectly fine.

God I was so screwed.

Well, there was one positive thought I could keep in my head. Vicky had promised that he and Jack would take off from school and work to be there with me. It would be SO much easier going through another one of these fucking things if I could look over and see Vicky's sexy, calming presence anytime I thought I might have a panic attack. Which, let's be honest here, was probably gonna be every few seconds.

I let out a happy little sigh as Vicky took over my thoughts. I loved him so much. Everything about him was just so, so, soothing and amazing and-

The phone, my phone, rang, startling me out of my thoughts. I was a little annoyed at first because I hated being interrupted when I was daydreaming about Vicky but since he was one of the three people that had my number I quickly got over it and picked up the phone.

"Hello?" I greeted, hoping it was Vicky. Or at the very least not Michelle.

"Hey." Vicky's voice came through the handset. Score! But, wait, he didn't sound normal. His voice was really soft and, I dunno, apologetic? Sad? Something was wrong.

"Are you ok?" I asked, starting to get worried.

"Yeah, um, I'm fine." he said in that same tone. "My . . . . grandma died today though."

"Oh my God, Vicky I'm so sorry." My heart ached for him.

"No, it's ok. She's been sick for a while and we all kind of expected it. It was my dad's mom though so he's pretty upset." he said.

"Oh." Now I was back to confused. "You sound really upset though, are you sure you're taking it ok?"

Vicky sighed sadly. "Yeah. It's just . . . ." he trailed off.

"What?" I asked after a minute of tense silence. "Vicky, you're scaring me. Whats wrong?"

He sighed again but this time there was frustration mixed in with the sadness. "The funeral is on Tuesday." he said.

At first I didn't get it. If he wasn't upset about his grandma dying then why would he be this upset over the funeral? And then it hit me, and I felt like someone had just kicked me in the stomach. My chest tightened and I could barely force myself to breathe. "You-you're not gonna be at the hearing." I choked out. Saying the words hurt almost as much realizing that they were true.

"I'm so sorry Nate." Vicky sounded almost as bad as I did. "I promised I'd be there and I wanna be there for you and I'm just so fucking sorry. I begged my dad to change the date but my grandpa already set it all up and-" he swallowed audibly, even over the phone. "I'm sorry." he whispered.

For a while I couldn't say anything. Everything that made me feel even the smallest bit not completely terrified about this stupid custody thing was all centered around Vicky being there with me. I needed him there. I couldn't do this without him. I. Could. Not. Do. This.

I didn't even realize the rapid, panicked breathing I heard was coming from me until I opened my mouth to talk and it stopped. "When." It was my turn to swallow. "When is it? What time?" Maybe if it ended early enough he could get there before the hearing started. Or maybe while it was going on.

"1:15. But . . . . " he sighed again and then said really quickly. "It's in New York and we're leaving tomorrow and since it's Thanksgiving this Thursday we're gonna stay up there for the holiday."

I let out a small sob as my eyes filled with tears. I didn't even care if I was crying like a girl. Vicky wasn't gonna be there and, just because that wasn't torture enough, I wasn't even gonna get to spend Thanksgiving with him. I'd been looking forward to our first real holiday together for a while and now we were gonna be spending it apart. And even worse, what if my dad did get me? Every divorced kid I've ever known spends the weekends with the parent he doesn't live with. If my dad got me this weekend I wouldn't even see Vicky before that. If he did send me away TODAY might be the last time I ever saw him. "Vicky . . ." I sobbed, feeling totally lost. What the hell was I going to do? It felt like my heart was being ripped out of my chest. I'd never wanted to die so much in my entire life.

"I am so sorry Nate." Vicky sounded close to tears himself. "God, I am so sorry. Please. Tell me what I can do. Anything. If I can do it I will please tell me how to make you feel better." he said frantically.

"Don't go." I pleaded softly through the tears.

And that was too much for him. I heard a heartbreaking sob and then we were both crying into our phones.

Even through the total soul killing anguish I was feeling I knew that I was being a bit of a shit to him. He was just as upset at not being able to be there for me as I was that he wasn't gonna be there and I still begged him to do the one thing he couldn't do. I felt a sudden hatred for his grandma. Why the HELL did the old bitch have to die today? She couldn't have waited until it was convenient for me?!

That was probably the most selfish thought I'd ever had, but it made me feel a bit of vindictive satisfaction even though I knew I'd feel really bad about it later.

We cried together, yet too far apart, for a while. I have no idea how long. I poured out all my frustration and pain and heartbreak and fear until there was nothing left except an oh so welcome numbness. At that moment, if I could have chosen to feel nothing for the rest of my life, no pain, no sadness, no joy, no love, I would have done it. I would have given up anything to never feel like this again.

"Nate." Vicky softly said my name. And just like that the moment was over. My love for Vicky slowly started to creep back into the numbness and I couldn't believe there was ever a second when I'd have been willing to never feel that again.

"Vicky." I said in the exact same tone.

"I'm sorry." he said again.

"Me too." I whispered.

More silence then. I had no idea what Vicky was thinking but I started pulling up every random thought I could. Michelle arguing with Erica. My mom apologizing for the sex talk. Vicky dancing. Playing Street Fighter at the Halloween party. Luke laughing. Jason blushing. Vicky smiling. Anything I could think of so I didn't have to think about facing the hearing alone.

"I love you." Vicky finally said, soft and scratchy. My heart broke a little. Those words should never sound so, so . . . . defeated.

I took a deep, shuddering breath. "I love you too."

"If I could be there, I would." he said and I hated that he felt the need to even say that. What made it even worse was that I knew it was partly my fault.

"I know, Vicky. I know. I just-" I broke off and swallowed back a sob. I took another deep breath. "I know."

"I wish I could be there right now."

"Me too."

"I'm sorry."

"It's not your fault." I said.

We fell silent again after that. We didn't know what to say. Not that it mattered. Even the perfect words wouldn't have been enough. I needed Vicky here. I needed him to hold me. I needed to soak up his love and just BE with him.

We hung up, eventually. I can't even remember what we said to each other before getting off the phone. All I remember was the ache of separation I felt after hanging up. I felt stupid for not wanting words. Fuck! Words were better than nothing. And that's what I had right now. Nothing.

I grabbed a pillow, curled up around it and started crying again.

I have no idea how much time passed. How long I lay there missing Vicky and dreading Tuesday and feeling my life coming closer and closer to being over with every second that passed. I know I didn't fall asleep. I wished I did. Even if I would wake up and have to face another day of sitting at home with nothing to do except work and wait for Tuesday, and this time without Vicky even being there at the end of it. I just wanted today to be over.

I just wanted Vicky.

I had this horrible, sudden thought that I really would never see him again. A certainty that this was it. That he'd come back from New York and find me gone, shipped off to some brainwashing camp that I'd never be allowed to leave from. I could see it like it had already happened. Vicky, freaking out when he came back and my mom told him what happened. Me, locked in some dark room while psycho's used drugs and electricity and religion to try and burn my desire for boys out of my brain. Vicky crying in his room, wishing he could see me one last time. Me finally giving up and slitting my wrists with a piece of something sharp I'd managed to sneak away from the orderlies, dying alone in my dark cell.

There was a knock at my door and I didn't even have the motivation to summon up a frown. I definitely didn't want to see my mom right then. There was another knock. "Go away." I somehow managed to squeeze out. It came out scratchy and raw.

The door opened and I felt a sudden spike of anger in my chest. Can't she tell I wanna fucking be alone? That the last thing I want is a mommy pep talk or whatever the hell she wanted? I pushed myself up and turned towards the door, ready to take out all my pain and frustration on her-and then froze. My mom wasn't standing in my doorway.

It was Vicky.

"Vic-" I barely got out half his name before he ran across my room and threw himself at me. He crashed into me and landed on top of me on the bed. My arms closed around him out of pure reflex because I was still too surprised to move.

"Nate." he cried, thick and watery. "I'm sorry. I'msorryimsorryimsorryimsorryimsorry" he said over and over as he laid frantic little kisses all over my face.

Suddenly, everything else stopped mattering. I didn't give a shit how it happened. My Vicky was here, in MY room in MY arms. Everything I wanted just minutes -hours?- ago was here and everything else could just wait it's fucking turn. I started kissing his face as he kissed mine and then our lips met and everything was perfect again. We kissed and touched and held each other close and all that existed was his lips on mine and his heartbeat that I could feel pounding through my chest.

When we came up for air minutes -hours?- later I stared into his beautiful, gray eyes and all I could feel was complete contentment. "I love you." I breathed.

"I love you too." he said and smiled warmly. "I love you so much."

I was so happy. Not that I ever doubted he loved me but just hearing it coming from his lips while there was practically no distance between us when just a little while ago I thought I'd never see him again was one of the best things that had ever happened to me. Almost better than the first time even.

"What are you doing here?" I blurted out, and then blushed. "Not that I'm not insanely happy you're here!" I added quickly.

Vicky laughed, way too much for the situation really, and I guessed he was feeling the same giddy relief I was at being together. "I begged my dad." he said after he got himself under control. "I hated the thought of leaving like that. After we hung up I needed to see you. Just thinking about sitting in my bed trying to sleep while I couldn't do anything to help you was tearing me up. So I told my dad how upset you were and begged him to let me stay with you until we had to leave. We packed all our stuff up and here I am." He grinned.

There was a tiny, small part of me that had hoped that him being here meant that he was gonna skip the funeral and come to the hearing with me and that part was disappointed, but mostly I didn't care about that right now. I was still too happy to have him here with me. "When do you have to leave?"

His grin faded a little. "Tomorrow morning. Around nine." he said sadly.

I felt the panic and the sadness start to come back but I clamped down hard on them. No. I never, NEVER wanna feel like that again. I never want to feel like the only future that exists is one where I'm so torn apart inside that the only thing I can do is kill myself. I didn't know how much longer after Vicky left I'd be able to keep the despair from coming back, but I was determined that I'd keep it away at least until he was gone. If I only had the next fourteen or so hours with him I wasn't gonna waste them crying.

"I think," I said slowly. "I really, really wanna have sex right now."

Vicky giggled and his gaze suddenly got really heated. "Yeah?"

I smiled. "Oh yeah."

Vicky flashed his wicked grin and reached down to unbutton my pants. "Then what are we waiting for?"

"Nothing." I said, my voice heavy with lust, as I pulled him down to me.

Three hours later we were both sitting downstairs in my living room with my mom and Jack. I was in Vicky's lap on the couch with my mom sitting next to us and Jack sitting in the recliner that he pulled over across from us. I kept shifting, my ass really not up to sitting on anything as hard as another human being after all the sex we'd just got done having, but there was no way I was gonna sit anywhere else. I wanted to be as close to Vicky as possible until he had to leave.

I glanced again to the hallway where two suitcases were sitting. Way too much for just Vicky so I assumed that Jack was gonna be spending the night too. That . . . . . wasn't as disturbing as it would have been any other night. Hell, even having to open the door to leave my room after our sex marathon when Vicky never closed it after running into my arms didn't bother me as much as it should have. Although, I did choose to interpret the fact that my mom didn't throw one knowing smirk or snarky comment at us to mean that she knew that this wasn't the time for such things, and not that she wasn't the one to close the door. As laid back as I was feeling, I was pretty sure I'd start to freak out if I thought about Jack walking in on us in the middle of sex.

We'd come down about five minutes ago to get something to eat when my mom called us in and told us to have a seat. We hadn't really talked about anything since then, but I didn't really care. I was happy just cuddling with Vicky.

So Nate," Jack said, breaking the silence. "How would you feel about coming up to New York after the hearing and spending Thanksgiving with us?"

It took me a few seconds to realize what he said since I was paying more attention to my Vicky chair than anything else. When I did, my head shot up and a grin sprung up on my lips. "What? Really?" I turned to my mom. "This is ok right? He already asked you and you said yes?" I knew by the, "I-just-pulled-a-happy-surprise-on-my-son" smile on her face that she already did, but I needed to hear it anyway. I was still a little fragile from before and this was like being dragged out of stormy seas just before I drowned. If it didn't happen I thought I might die.

"Yes, he asked, and I said I'd love to but we'd have to make sure it was ok with yo-"

"Yes!" I cried happily. "Yes! Yes! Hell yes!" I turned around in Vicky's lap and hugged him tight. "I'm spending Thanksgiving with you!" I let him go and kissed him hard, not caring even a little bit that both our parents were watching. He held me close and kissed me back with just as much happiness and enthusiasm.

"Well," my mom said and I didn't even have to look at her to know she was smiling. "I guess we're spending Thanksgiving in New York."

After me and Vicky had pulled ourselves away from each other we all talked about how this was gonna work. We decided that no matter what happened at the hearing me and my mom would be leaving first thing Thursday morning and driving up to Jack's parents house in New York. I was a bit worried about that, I'd never met them (obviously) and didn't know them (again, obviously) so I didn't know if Vicky's grandpa would even want two strangers in his house so soon after his wife's funeral. Jack told me it wouldn't be a problem, Vicky was right when he said his grandma dying wasn't unexpected. Apparently she'd been in a coma for more than four months while her body slowly died. It seriously sucked, but everyone had done most of their mourning already and were just glad that she was finally at peace. Don't get me wrong, Jack was still sad and it was a bit hard for him to talk about it sometimes, but he'd been expecting it for a while and so had Vicky's grandpa. They weren't nearly as devastated as they'd have been if it happened out of nowhere. So there shouldn't be a problem with staying. There were even an aunt and uncle and a cousin or two staying there for Thanksgiving too.

With that all set we settled down and watched another movie together. I quickly decided that movies are the best family time. You're together and relaxed and best of all no one talks. I sat in Vicky's lap the whole time, just soaking up the feeling of being close to him and trying really hard not to think about him leaving tomorrow morning.

After the movie none of us were ready to go to bed so we flipped channels and for some reason ended up stopping on a Dane Cook HBO special. We got about halfway through before I realized I was the only one laughing.

"What?" I asked. "Why is everyone looking at me like that?"

"No reason." Jack said quickly. "I, uh, I've just never seen anyone enjoy Dane Cook that much." He gave me an odd look.

"Well, he's funny!" I said defensively. I looked at my mom for some support but she was giving me kinda the same look. I didn't even wanna know what Vicky was thinking.

"Ok, ok!" Jack said and held up his hands in surrender.

I glared at him for a second. There was something I was missing here. Everyone was acting like I just said I liked Carlos Mencia or something. I shrugged. Whatever. We watched the rest of the special and I shot Jack a triumphant smirk every time I heard Vicky chuckle softly.

When that was over it was a little late and Jack and Vicky needed to get up early so we decided to go to bed. We said goodnight and I got off Vicky, took his hand and led him up to my room. I didn't know where Jack was gonna sleep since we didn't really have a guest room but I decided that I was just gonna pretend he slept on the couch. Even if the idea of him and my mom sleeping together (like SLEEPING together, not "sleeping" together) didn't really bother me tonight I knew it would tomorrow so it was probably for the best.

May the Denial be with you.

We got changed for bed in front of each other and if I was just a little less tired or I'd cum just one less time earlier I'd have jumped him when he was bent over naked pulling up his pajama pants, but I didn't. Instead I climbed into bed and waited for him. He slid under the covers with me a few seconds later and I pulled him close after turning off the light.

I rested my forehead on the back of his head and inhaled deeply. God I loved that little hint of strawberry body wash. It mixed perfectly with Vicky's naturally sweet scent. "I love you so much." I whispered.

"Me too." he whispered back. We were silent for a few minutes and I thought he might have fallen asleep when he spoke. "I wish I could be there with you."

My heart clenched a bit at the reminder but I fought the feeling. "Me too." I said softly. "But knowing I'm gonna spend Thanksgiving with you helps a bit." And I was surprised that it was true. As much as I was dreading Tuesday I was looking forward to Thursday even more. By then, one way or another, it'd be over and I'd get my holiday with Vicky. Even if my dad got me he couldn't take that away.

"Really?" he asked hesitantly.

"Yeah." I kissed the back of his head. "Really."

He cuddled closer, pulling my arms tighter around him, but didn't say anything else. A little while later I heard his breathing get slow and even and I knew he was asleep. I stayed awake for while, just holding him and trying to get as much time with him as I could before sleep took over.

I didn't get much sleep at all that night.

Vicky and Jack left early Monday morning.

They almost didn't get out on time. After we woke up in each others arms neither one of us wanted to let go. It took ten solid minutes of my mom practically breaking my door down with her fist for us to get out of bed and even then we didn't once let each other out of our sight until he left.

I was glad no one mentioned us showering together at breakfast.

Somehow we managed to keep our tearful goodbye at the door to a few silent tears running down our cheeks instead of the gut wrenching sobs that wanted to come out, of me at least. I'd said bye at that door to Vicky dozens of times since I'd met him but this time left more permanent. Which was stupid because I knew I was gonna see him in a few days at Thanksgiving but still, that's how it felt.

When Vicky left I completely expected all my strength to go with him. I thought that the second the door clicked everything would come rushing back and I'd curl into a ball on the floor and cry until I was laying in a puddle of tears. But it didn't happen. Instead, all I could think about was something Vicky said to me while we were saying goodbye.

"Don't let him win without a fight." It was somewhere between an order and a plea, but it stuck with me after the door closed and for the next few hours while I sat at my desk trying to pull up enough motivation to pretend to do work.

Don't let him win without a fight.

Because that's exactly what I was doing. Ever since that dinner I'd been thinking about my dad getting at least joint custody like it had already happened and we were just showing up to get the papers or something. I barely even paid attention when my mom talked about our chances because I never really thought we had any. I'd given up without even realizing it. I was letting my dad win.

And that was something I couldn't stand.

It's kinda weird. The second Vicky put it that way, like it was a contest between me and my dad, I was suddenly super motivated to do everything I could to keep him from winning. He was NOT going to beat me. He was NOT going to win. I was gonna fight his religious, bigoted, alkie ass and get him out of my life forever!

I just had no idea how I was gonna do it.

I could have strangled myself for not talking about any of this with Vicky before he left. I might have been the smart one, but he was way more clever than me. Between the two of us, we probably could have thought of SOMETHING better than what I had. Which was a big, fat, rancid pile of nothing. I actually kinda wished my dad didn't puke all over the bailiff last time. It got me away from him for four years but it would have been nice to at least have some idea of how a real custody hearing is gonna go. I kinda doubted this one would be five minutes of a judge bitching out my dad for showing up drunk and a quick, "full custody to the mother" decision.

Eventually I decided to try and find out as much as I could about the judges in this town. The best plan in the world wouldn't mean crap if I got a homophobic judge who wasn't gonna see anything but a kid who was led into a life of perversion by not having a male role model in his life or some crap like that. So I Binged (fuck Google) "judges in Cooper, West Virginia" and the first thing that came up was a site called Judgepedia that actually lists every judge in every town in the country. Why something like that even exists I have no idea but I'm gonna guess a lot of boredom and way too much free time was involved. As wikis go it wasn't one of the better ones. All it really had were the judges names but that was a good start. I spent the next few hours searching and reading everything I could about all of them. There were only four but even with Bing there was a lot to go through.

When I was done I was feeling a little better about my chances. There was only one judge that looked like he might be a problem, with the gay stuff anyway, and all I could find about him was that he supported federal marriage amendments that would ban gay marriage in the country. Nothing too psycho. On the other end there was a female judge who was very pro gay marriage and even better apparently went through a divorce with her alcoholic husband a few years ago. I really, really hoped we got her, but I didn't really expect it. I'm just not that lucky.

The other two didn't have anything about gays in anything I read about them. One was, like, 90 and apparently retiring soon and the other one just moved here from Florida a few months ago. Either one of them would have been better than the first one.

So, now that that's done it's time to form my master plan to deal with each judge. Instead of showing up tomorrow as Nate without a clue I'm gonna show up as Batman with all the prep time in the world and totally own their asses!

Two hours later and I had nothing.

It's not like I didn't try. I really, really did. I just had no idea what I could possibly do except say that I didn't wanna live with my dad. That's gotta count for something, right? I had no idea. Maybe if the gay thing didn't come up but I was pretty sure my dad was gonna lead with that. Depending on the judge it might work.

In the end I gave up. I know, I really do, but I just couldn't think of anything and trying to was just making me frustrated and depressed. I'd have to just be alert and react to whatever was gonna happen as it happened. Maybe I'd get lucky and my mom would have an awesome plan and I won't even have to do anything. Maybe this was a fight that I didn't have to win myself?

It was late so I made a half assed effort to scribble some answers down on a few worksheets so I at least looked like I tried to get my work done. I was a little surprised that I wasn't more nervous about going back to school on Wednesday and running into Carl (not because I was scared of him but because I didn't know if I'd get myself expelled if I hit him again) but I was too worried/anxious/keyed up/angry/pretty much every other emotion that exists about tomorrow. Compared to my dad, Carl was nothing.

It took me a long time to fall asleep that night.

Which kinda sucked because I ended up waking up way too early after like 4 hours of sleep. My body was all keyed up and virbratey like I'd just drank way too much Rockstar. On top of all that I was more than a little terrified about what was gonna happen later on. Going to bed without a plan seems like such a stupid dumbfuck idea when you sleep on it. I took a quick shower and then spent the whole morning listening to a mix of inspirational 80's songs and angry rap trying to get myself psyched up for the hearing.

All it did was make me wanna be the best that I could be and bust a cap in any nigga that steps to me.

Not really helpful.

I really wished Vicky was here. Or even that I could just call him and talk to him. Or that he'd call me. Or that aliens would abduct us both at the same time so we could talk in a spaceship. Or-

There was a knock at my door. "Nate! Are you dressed? We need to leave in a half hour." my mom called through the door. I suppressed a shudder,

"I'll be ready in a minute." I said, pulling at the waist of my pajama pants. I heard her walk away and let out a sigh. I couldn't avoid it anymore. It was time.

The car ride was mostly silent.

I kinda thought my mom would be comforting me the whole way since my body was quivering and bouncing from being way overfilled with every single negative emotion ever invented, plus at least two new ones I just discovered, but she never even looked over at me. Her hands were gripping the wheel so tight they were turning white so I guessed she had her own stuff to deal with.

After a way too short drive we finally pulled into the parking lot for the county court house. We sat there for probably a minute before I realized that neither one of us was making any move to get out of the car. I looked over at my mom. She was looking at me with a look of strained concern in her eyes. It was the first time she looked at me since we got in the car and I had no clue how bad I looked but I was pretty sure it was a lot worse than when we left.

We sat there for another minute, just looking in each others eyes, before she said anything. "Nathan. Are you ok?"

I couldn't help myself, I let out a short, kinda manic, laugh. "Vicky isn't here." It was the only answer I gave her. It was the only one I needed to give her. "I'm scared." It just slipped out. I really didn't mean to say it. It's one thing admitting it to myself or Vicky but saying it to my mom made it that much more real. As annoying as she can be, she was the last line of defense I had against the world. If I couldn't help myself and Vicky couldn't help me, she was the only adult in my life who could do adult things to help me. And if she couldn't help? Then I was seriously screwed.

"Nate." she said evenly. "You don't need to be scared. Everything's going to be fine. Don't worry."

My heart sank. "Really? Everything's gonna be fine? That's the best you got? What if he wins, mom? Can you promise he won't? Because if he does you might never see me again. He's crazy, mom! He's all religious and nuts and if he gets me alone he's probably gonna ship me off to some psycho ex gay camp and I'll never see anyone again!" It was the first time I'd talked to my mom about my biggest fear. I know, probably not the smartest thing waiting until the last minute to talk to my mom about ANY of this, but I was scared. I wanted so badly to just hold on to one tiny little thread of hope that she'd just fix everything for me and I was scared that if I talked to her about any of it I'd find out that she couldn't just make it all better. But she never mentioned any of this to me so I kinda thought she never thought about it and that made it even MORE stupid not to say anything.

But then I saw the look she was giving me, not surprise or horror or even her "you're doing the teen melodrama thing again Nate" look, but a slight, uncomfortable wince and I know I was wrong.

"You KNEW?" I cried. "Didn't you? You knew EXACTLY what he wants to do, don't you?" Yeah, different tenses there, whatever. I'm not in English class. And I was starting to get a little bit pissed.

She sighed. "He called a few times. Said some things. So," she took a breath and looked me in the eyes. "Yeah, I kinda knew."

"Then why the hell didn't you say anything!?" I yelled. I had no idea why I was so mad. I knew that I could have just as easily said something but I wasn't in the mood for being "fair" or "rational" or any of that crap. And to be honest being pissed was a lot better than being terrified.

"Because I didn't want you to be worried!" she yelled back.

"Well that fucking worked!" I screamed at loud as I could, gesturing wildly at myself.

There was total silence as the sound of my scream faded away in the car. We looked at each other, me breathing heavily and my mom with her eyes slightly widened in surprise, and then we both started laughing hysterically.

"Oh God." my mom said, panting through her laughter. "It really didn't work, did it?"

"No! Not at all!" I laughed. "I've been freaking out all week!"

That just made my mom laugh harder. "Why is this so funny?"

"I-I-I dunno." I gasped, then stopped trying to say anything. I was laughing too much, so much my stomach was starting to cramp up, and I had no idea why.

Finally, several minutes later, our laughs kinda tapered off into infrequent chuckles. "Wow." My mom said with an incredibly carefree grin. "I think we kinda needed that, huh?"

I found myself grinning back without even thinking about it. Suddenly, I didn't feel nearly as scared or nervous as I did before. "Yeah," I said. "Definitely."

"Are you ready?" she asked a few seconds later.

I thought about it for a second and was honestly surprised by my answer. "Yeah." I said. "I'm ready."

She smiled. "Good, then let's go."

"Wait! Mom?"

She stopped and turned back to me? "What is is honey?"

I rolled my eyes automatically at the very uncool "honey" and then asked hesitantly, "You got this, right?"

She looked at me for a second and then flashed me a grin that made is shockingly easy to picture her as a teenager about to do mischief. "Yeah. I've got this." And strangely enough, I believed her. It was a huge relief to not have everything on my shoulders.

I smiled, got out of the car and followed her inside the court house.

It was weird, but after we did all the preliminary crap and got into the courtroom I didn't feel the need to completely flip out. I was expecting to. So much that I was a bit disturbed by how calm I was. Ok, well maybe not calm, but compared to how I've been the past few days I was practically Shaft with how cool I was being. Well, like a white Shaft. A white, Samuel L Jackson Shaft because I never saw any of the other ones-you know what? I'll just stop here. I wasn't freaking out is my point. For the first time in days I felt like me again.

Hence the Shaft awkwardness that we'll be ignoring forever now.

The room itself was kind of a letdown. The one in Alaska was small because, well, it was a small fucking town in Alaska but this one looked a lot like it. Or really any courtroom you've ever seen in a Judge show or Law and Order episode. I dunno what I was expecting, but it was pretty bland and boring. There weren't even any huge, overbearing statues of that blind chick with the scales. Just brown crowd benches, a brown jury place, brown chairs in front of brown tables for the plaintiff and the defendant (Judy taught me well) and just to mix it up a little bit a slightly darker shade of brown for the raised up judge place in front.

I've said it before, gay or not, I know nothing about fashion, and that also includes decorating and painting and any of that stuff, but I've never liked the color brown. I'll usually wear anything as long as it sorta fits (unless I'm trying to look hot for Vicky) but even if a half awake, about-to-miss-the-bus daze I'd never wear anything brown. It's bland and reminds me of shit. Anyway this is just a really long way of me trying to say I thought the room could use a bit of color while trying my best not to come off as gayer than I already am. I'll let the historians judge my success.

And no, that wasn't a judge pun.

And speaking of wearing things I was wearing the nicest clothes I have, which was sadly still the same shirt and pants that I wore to the Tell Dad Dinner last week, and my mom was wearing one of her "look at me! I'm a professional woman that makes more money than you and I spent half of it on this outfit" VP pantsuits that she only ever brings out of storage when she wants to impress or intimidate someone. My hair was as neat and tidy as it can get, which was actually pretty damn neat since my mom took one look at the mess I made of it after my shower, dragged me into her bathroom and sprayed practically an entire chemical factory's worth of crap into it. It was all sleek and shiny and fell just right and actually made me look more mature, if not older, than I was. There was no way any judge could fault us on our appearance at least.

Aside from the bailiff, (sadly not big, black and easily pissed off) me and my mom were the only ones there. I dunno if people usually bring lawyers to these things, but we didn't have one with us. We sat down in our chairs and waited.

We didn't have to wait long. We'd gotten there pretty close to when we were supposed to so, if I was gonna be a dick about it, I COULD say that when my dad walked in ten minutes later he was a little late. He had Caroline and another man I'd never seen before with him, but no Luke. I guess they left him at home for this. Don't wanna expose the "pure" son to the deviant one I guess. I suppressed a laugh.

They all walked right down the aisle but when Caroline saw me she gave me a small smile before slipping into one of the observer seats behind my dad. My dad and the other guy sat down in the chairs to our right. My dad never looked at me or my mom once and if I cared at all about him that probably would have hurt. I just hoped the judge was watching from some secret judge hole or something. The guy he was with was tall, balding and was wearing black glasses that were just thick enough not to be cool. And unlike my dad, he looked at me. Actually, stared was more like it and no matter how many times I glanced over at him he was still staring. I was starting to get seriously creeped out when the skinny bailiff stood up and said, "All rise for the Honorable Judge Thomas Wright."

We all stood and I had to fight the sudden urge to yell "OBJECTION!" as loud as I could. Yeah, I was kinda getting filled with a nervous giddiness. Sue me.

I did breathe a small sigh of relief when I heard the judges name though. He wasn't the probable homophobe guy (who's name was Miguel Gonzalez by the way. Who says only white people can be bigots?) but he wasn't the female judge either. He was the one who moved here from Florida. I tried to remember if Florida was known for tolerance and then wanted to kick myself for not thinking to look that up last night.

Judge Wright walked in and took his place in the judge area. He was about as tall as my dad and looked like he was in his 70's with a completely bald, Patrick Stewert fringe thing going on but he walked almost ramrod straight with quick, sure steps so either I was wrong about his age or it didn't slow him down much. "Be seated." he said and looked out at all of us with sharp, blue eyes. We all sat down.

I glanced over to see if creepy glasses guy was still looking at me but all his attention was focused on the judge. He was actually giving him the same stare he gave me so maybe he's just creepy with everyone he looks at? I shrugged. Didn't matter. Not as much as finding out who the hell he was anyway. I thought maybe my dads lawyer but if my dad had one why didn't we?

"So," the judge said after flipping through what I assumed was a folder in front of him. "We're here to discuss the custody arrangements of Nathan Ellis." He looked out at all of us again, first me and my mom, then my dad and his weird guy then back down at the folder. "Mr Ellis."

For a second I thought he was talking to me and I wondered what the hell I did wrong to get called on by the freaking judge two seconds into the hearing but before I could figure out what to say my dad stood up. "Yes your honor?" he said.

The judge gave my dad a piercing look. "I have the case file from your last custody hearing in front of me. The judge who presided over that case didn't have very many nice things to say about you Mr Ellis. You showed up drunk for your son's hearing and vomited on her bailiff, is that correct?"

Ok, this was SO worth it just to see my dad all squirming and awkward.

My dad flushed. "Yes, your honor." He said, embarrassed.

"You're getting help for your alcoholism." It wasn't really a question, but my dad answered anyway.

"Yes your honor. I've been in AA for about two years now. But my real healing has come from letting Jesus Christ into my heart."

I wanted to puke.

"Good." the judge nodded approvingly. "Getting help and finding religion are definitely steps in the right direction."

My stomach dropped. Shit. Was this guy a religious nut too?

"Now," Wright continued. "I see you're remarried Mr Ellis?"

"Yes your honor." my dad said quickly. "My wife and her son, Luke, have been living with me for about a year now."

"And you moved here from Alaska to be closer to your son?"

"Yes, your honor."

"Alright." he said and turned towards my mom. "And-" he paused. "Would you like to be called Mrs Ellis, Miss Ellis or something else?"

"Miss Ellis is fine your honor." my mom said. "I use it for work so I've kinda gotten used to it."

"Ok then, Miss Ellis, you object to sharing joint custody with your ex husband. Why?"

My mom took a deep breath, probably to stop from shouting out something like "he's a douchebag". "He doesn't care about Nate. He never once called or wrote to him after the divorce and then just shows up at our door one day and tries to start running Nate's life. He insulted his friends, my parenting and never once apologized for any of the heartbreak his drinking caused either of us." she took a second to shoot an evil glare at my dad. "And ever since he found out that Nathan is gay he's been harassing me with calls about how 'evil' he is and how he needs to be 'cured'." she added, complete with air quotes.

I winced. Way to ease into that one, mom.

"It's wrong Julia!" my dad burst out. "He's not gay. You and that, that pervert you're dating have messed with his mind, making him think he's some kind of deviant. You're causing him lasting psychological harm!"

"Oh please." my mom scoffed.

"Actually Mrs Ellis." the man next to my dad spoke up. He had a slightly nasal voice which fit pretty well with the rest of him. "Your ex husband is right."

"And who are you?" The judge said, frowning slightly. "Weren't you both told that lawyers wouldn't be necessary?"

"He's not my lawyer." My dad said. "He's Dr Edward Quinn, a child psychologist."

"And you brought him with you because . . . ?" the judge trailed off.

"Because," the creepy guy, Quinn, cut in. "I specialize in cases dealing with the type of abuse that Nate is going through."

The judge frowned again and turned all his attention to Quinn. "You seem familiar. Do I know you?" he asked speculatively.

"No, your honor." he said quickly. "This is the first time I've ever been brought in for something like this."

Judge Wright looked at him for close to a minute in complete silence until even I could tell the guy was trying really hard not to fidget. "Alright." he said slowly. "How did you get involved in this?"

"Mr Ellis found me through his church." he said. "He explained the problem to his priest and he put Mr Ellis in touch with me."

"And what kind of 'abuse' do you think Nathan is going through?" he sounded a bit skeptical, which was good I guess, but I was almost too busy focusing all my attention on Dr Quinn. My stomach felt heavy just looking at him. A church psychologist. It was everything I was afraid of but until now I only had a bunch of faceless nightmares. Well, they had a face now. I waited for the fear to come back, but it didn't. All I felt was a slowly building anger.

"He's not going through any abuse!" my mom shouted.

"Yes he is Mrs Ellis." Quinn said patiently. "You may not be doing it on purpose but you're feeding into his delusion that he's a sexual deviant. Instead of developing normally like most boys his age and getting interested in girls he has an unhealthy interest in his own gender. It's stunting his emotional growth and if it keeps up this supposed 'homosexuality' will be the least of the psychological problems that surface as he gets older."

"That is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard." my mom said scornfully. "Being gay isn't some mental disorder."

"Yes it is." Quinn said, a little more forcefully this time. "I know that isn't the politically correct thing to say today but it's the truth. It's part of the reason why the suicide rate among so called gay teenagers is so high. Unnatural development is dangerous for children. And you're just making it worse by not getting him the help he needs."

"He doesn't need help!"

"Yes he does. I've helped over a dozen children just like your son who are now on their way to being normal, functioning adults. They've broken free from their delusions and are now healthy. That's all your ex husband wants for your son Mrs Ellis."

"Miss." she said icily. "And my son isn't sick. He's not a 'deviant' or a sinner or anything other than a perfectly normal, gay thirteen year old boy."

"It's wrong!" my dad shouted. "Julia for Pete's sake why can't you see that? It's disgusting and wrong and immoral and I won't let my son grow up damaged because you won't admit that I'm right."

It was getting to be too much. Every word that asshole, BOTH those assholes, said just made me want to hit something. And honestly my mom wasn't helping either. They were all just yelling at each other and the judge wasn't even stopping them and I'd had enough. "Is anyone ever gonna ask me what I want?" I said loudly.

That stopped them for a second. I think they'd forgotten that I was even there. Then my dad said "Nate, you aren't smart enough or mature enough to know what you want."

Something way back inside of me snapped and the anger that had been slowly building suddenly erupted like a volcano. "I'm not smart enough?" I said, low and cold. I don't usually do this, in fact, I never do this. I'm not a snob or an elitist but I was so far beyond being able to hold back. "That's what you said, right? That I'm not smart enough?"

"Nate-" my dad started.

"No! I've listened to you. Now it's your turn. You think I'm not smart? Do you wanna know the lowest grade I've ever gotten on a test?" I didn't wait for an answer. "It was a B%2B. In math. My WORST subject. And that isn't just this year. That's EVER. My lowest grade EVER." I glared at him, beyond insulted. If he really wanted to pass snap judgments then let's see how he likes this. "When did Caesar cross the Rubicon? What temperature does diamond melt at? What's a clause?" I paused and waited for an answer. My dad just stood there with his mouth slightly open. "You don't know?" I raised my eyebrows. "49 BC. Four thousand eight hundred and twenty seven degrees Fahrenheit or three thousand five hundred and fifty degrees Celsius. The smallest grammatical unit that can express a complete proposition. I don't know all that because I studied it for a test and memorized it. I know it because I'm a hell of a lot smarter than a hell of a lot of people. It makes me a total nerd, but I actually LIKE learning interesting things. And most things are easy for me to pick up."

I got up and started pacing back and forth in our little area. "So, now that we know I'm smarter than you, let's talk maturity. I'll admit it. I'm not all that mature. But which one of us destroyed his marriage and made his son hate him because he couldn't stop drinking and which one of us has never even once been in any kind of trouble?" Ok so I was lying a bit with that last part but I figured I could get away with it. "So, I may not be the master of maturity but I'm mature enough not to make stupid choices with my life." I stopped pacing and glared at my dad. "So, now that we know I'm smart and more mature than a lot of people my age, and some older, let's try this again." I stood as tall as I could and stared directly into my dad's eyes. "Dad. I'm gay. I've always been gay. And, by the way, I told mom I was gay YEARS before she even met Jack. I don't want to live with you. I don't want you in my life. Mom is a great parent. Leave. Us. Alone."

No one said anything and it took me about five seconds to regret going off like that. God, I came across as a total asshole! Even worse, the judge probably hates me and is gonna think me being like that is my moms fault. I think I fucked up but I couldn't just sit there and listen to that crap anymore and WHY WON'T ANYONE SAY ANYTHING!

I collapsed into my chair and found a really interesting line in the wood table to stare at. I waited. "You see, your honor." Quinn said finally. "It's already causing problems."

No one said anything to that. Probably waiting for me to flip out again. I didn't. I didn't have enough energy and I was pretty sure the judge already thought I was a nutcase. Might as well just sit here and wait for this stupid thing to end.

Judge Wright finally spoke up, but when he did it wasn't anything I expected him to say. "Frank Marlow." he said slowly.

I blinked, not at all understanding what the hell he meant. I looked up at him, thinking that maybe he was a bit senile after all, but he wasn't looking at me. He was looking over at my dads table. I followed his eyes and saw that Dr Quinn was suddenly very, very pale. "Y-your honor?" he squeaked.

"I may be old," the judge said. "But I never forget a name, or a face. Your face looks familiar but it doesn't match up with the name. But, if you had a little more hair and weren't wearing glasses your face would match up almost perfectly with Frank Marlow."

"I-I don't know who that is." he said nervously. It wasn't very convincing. Even my dad started to give him a weird look.

The judge smiled slightly, but it wasn't a very nice smile. "Well, if you're from around here there's no reason you should. I met him when I still lived in Florida. It was a while back, probably a good twenty five years, but I still remember the look on that little boys face when he got up on the stand and described everything that Frank did to him. We're supposed to be impartial, but it was very satisfying to send him to jail for twenty years. By the way how long have you lived here? And," The smile faded and I got a chill from the look he gave Quinn. It was filled with ice and fire and the need for justice. "How many children did you say you 'treated', Dr Quinn?"

His mouth opened and closed like a beached fish but no sound came out. My dad looked horrified and betrayed as he took three steps away from him. "Bailiff." Wright said. "Please tell Susan to call the sheriff and then take Dr Quinn into my chambers and keep him company until the police arrive. Somehow I don't think a name change and a career working with children was a part of his parole."

"Yes your honor." The bailiff said and hurried away.

Quinn, or Marlow I guess, looked like he was about to run when my dad stepped right in front of him. "You lied to me." he said, his voice low with anger. "You're a deviant and an abuser of children and I almost let you near my SON." My dad took one step towards him and Marlow stepped back, hit his chair and fell into it. "You're not going anywhere." my dad said through gritted teeth.

For the first time in a really long time I felt just the tiniest bit of pride in my dad. Maybe not even that, maybe just a little "my dad can kick your ass and you know it" thrill. Still, it was a change from just hating him all the time. If there was one thing that could unite us emotionally it was our disgust for a child molester. That doesn't mean I suddenly wanted him in my life. Nobody likes child molesters so hating one doesn't suddenly make you not an asshole.

The bailiff came back and took Marlow by the arm. He led him out of the court and into a back room that I assume was the judges "chambers" or whatever. When he was gone Judge Wright turned his attention back to us. "Well. These things usually aren't that dramatic." he said with a tiny smile. My mom was the only one who chuckled. "And I think I'm ready to make my decision."

"Wait" my dad said. "You can't-"

The judge held up his hand. "What I decided has nothing to do with Mr Marlow, Mr Ellis. Getting fooled doesn't make you an unfit father. In fact I think it's very admirable how much you've turned your life around."

My heart sank. So. After everything that happened my dad was still gonna win. I guess I could only hope that he'd be a little hesitant to ship me away to come Christian camp after this.

"That being said, in cases like this where the child is old enough to make decisions for himself what he or she wants is the most important factor, if there isn't any abuse or neglect going on of course. I don't see any evidence of that here." He looked at me. "Nathan, I probably don't even need to ask this but I want to be 100% sure. Do you want to live with your dad?"

I tried so hard not to get my hopes up. "No." I said.

"Do you want your dad to have joint custody?"

I swallowed. "No."

The judge nodded. "Ok then. I don't see any reason why custody should be changed then."

I could have cried. Every bit of tension and worry and angst was totally gone and unlike every other time that happened these past few days I knew, KNEW, it wasn't coming back. My dad wasn't getting me. I was free.

I won.

My dad wasn't taking it well. "But-" he sputtered. "She turned him into a deviant! A sinner! The bible-"

"Says a lot of things, Mr Ellis." Wright said, cutting him off. "I've been a Catholic my entire life, a lot longer than you have, and I've read the bible cover to cover more times that I can count."

"Then you know what it says about homosexuality! How can you let him go back to that?"

"I know exactly what the bible says about homosexuality Mr Ellis. It also says the same thing about shaving your beard, lying and planting wheat and barley in the same furrow. If I've learned anything in all my years as a Catholic, it's that Jesus didn't come to Earth to tell us who to have sex with or whether or not we're supposed to shave. He came to teach us love and forgiveness. Everything else," he waved his hand dismissively. "Isn't nearly as important as that." He gave my dad one of those small smiles. "I hope you realize that one day, Mr Ellis." he looked towards me, the smile still on his face. "Please don't take this the wrong way, I say it to every young person, but I hope I never see you in one of my courtrooms again."

I smiled, feeling way too good to remember I wasn't supposed to joke around with a judge. "Hey, didn't you listen to me before? I'm WAY too mature to get in trouble."

Wright actually chuckled. "I hope so." he gave my mom a nod and than said, "Full custody stays with Miss Ellis. Adjourned." Then he slammed his mallet thing and walked out.

He barely got half way before a pair of arms grabbed me from behind and lifted me into a hug. I grinned through happy tears as my mom laughed joyfully into my ear. She hugged me tightly for a full minute before putting me down and wiping at her own eyes. "You ready to go, kiddo?"

"Hell yeah." I said, still grinning. I didn't think I'd ever be able to stop. I was so fucking happy. The only time I'd ever felt better in my life was the first day I kissed Vicky. My dad was out of my life! He wasn't getting me. I wasn't going to get shipped away to a camp. Best of all? I was gonna get to spend Thanksgiving with Vicky. My good mood dimmed a bit, remembering where Vicky was today, but I still couldn't wait to call him and tell him the good news. He wasn't devastated about his grandma or anything, but I knew that telling him I was free would erase any sadness he was feeling.

I was so happy I didn't even object when my mom held my hand as we walked out of the courtroom. When you just faced possibly the literal end of your life looking cool suddenly seemed a little less important. Not that I was gonna make a habit of holding mommy's hand or anything. There's a limit to how uncool I'll let myself get.

When we left I saw that my dad was being consoled by Caroline. He wouldn't look at us. I couldn't tell if it was because he was disgusted or just still in shock over losing the case when he was convinced he was on a holy mission or something. Caroline did look at us though. Well, me anyway. She gave me a small, sad smile but for some reason I didn't think she was upset that I was going off to live a life of sin when I could have gone with them and gotten on the righteous path. She just looked sad that me and my dad really weren't a family, and most likely never would be. I gave her a small smile back before walking out the doors.

We walked out of the building and I turned my face up into the afternoon sun and breathed deeply. Ahhh, the sweet smell of freedom. Every step took me further and further away from my dad and closer to getting on with the rest of my life. My dad was gone, I was with my mom and pretty soon, I would be with my Vicky again.

Life was good.

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