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Running Far Afield

Libby Drew

Running Far Afield


Copyright 2009 by Libby Drew http:// libbydrew.gayauthors.org/ Aaron thought nothing would be different in his new town of Ridgton. Instead, nothing is the same. When he meets Chris, he finds not only a fellow baseball player, but a close friend one who gives him the courage to explore the things about himself he's been hiding.

Running Far Afield

Libby Drew

*~*~* Long in her tower had languished Danae, Fast cages by massive heavy-bolted doors, And guarded safe by savage-baying hounds From midnight lovers' vows. *~*~*

Running Far Afield

Libby Drew

He felt untouchable. The bedroom he'd chosen was cloistered on the opposite end of the house from his parents' suite, nestled inside a turret at the top of a set of dark, winding stairs. The house was big enough that they might go days and never see each other. Perfect. Seven tall arched windows framed a curved wall along one side of the room. A small bathroom and closet led off from the other. It was big something he'd have to get used to. He preferred things more compact. Contained. He didn't own enough to fill this space. His bed. His desk and computer. Stacks and stacks of books. There'd be ample room for those, at least. A gentle breeze fragrant with cut grass and wisteria blew through the open window and brushed across his face. He closed his eyes, inhaled, and forgot about the pile of boxes sitting at the bottom of the staircase. "Aaron!" He drew another deep breath, though his mouth this time, and pressed his hands over his ears. High in the tower. Safe from everything. "Aaron! Get down here and start bringing up these boxes. We can't get through this hall with the rest of the furniture until you do. Move it!" He gave up. He opened his eyes. Closed his mouth. Shut the window. The stairwell as opposed to his room pressed in, crowding him as he made the three sharp turns it took to reach the bottom. Gloomy and framed out in dark wood paneling, it felt cavelike. Which was exactly why he liked it. As he stepped out onto the second floor landing and entered his parents' world of ten-foot ceilings and bright white materialism, his father yelled again. "Aaron!" "I'm here," he said to the pile of boxes. That was his first day in Ridgton.

Running Far Afield

Libby Drew

***
His second day was a Sunday.

His parents left for church promptly at eight-thirty, dressed to kill and lecturing each other on the importance of first impressions. They would linger afterward, Aaron knew, meeting and greeting and pretending they were perfect. His father would talk about his consulting business while his mother would spread the latest gossip from her celebrity magazine. Success, his dad would say, is all about negotiation. Have you heard, his mother would say, they named the baby Sunshine. Can you imagine? And on and on it would go. Why yes, Mrs. Smith, we do have children. Well, one child a son. And yes, Mrs. Jones, he's a very spiritual boy, just tired from the move yesterday. Yes, I'm sure he'll be here next Sunday. Yes, yes, he'll attend the Academy in September. Yes, he's sixteen. Yes, he's a good boy. Though I wish he'd cut his hair. Aaron pulled himself out of bed at ten o'clock, stumbled to the bathroom, and then back through the maze of boxes to the open window. The breeze was cooler, though just as fragrant, and carried with it an underlying scent of campfire smoke. The padded window seat felt lumpy, but he sat anyway, happy to find one small flaw in his sea of suburban perfection. Yet more proof that he'd chosen the best room. As his eyes played over the view, he noticed what he hadn't yesterday. Across the two-acre sloping backyard, on the other side of the river, beyond a dense copse of trees, was a baseball field. Anticipation built in his chest. Baseball. It was the one uncontaminated thing he had left. Aaron squinted at the distant field and the figures that moved about on the tiny diamond of dirt. There was a game on. Loosely organized, if the lack of uniforms was any indication. Aaron pushed a stray blond hair from his face. For the first time in a week, he smiled. *** Over the river and through the woods. At some point, his life had been reduced to a tired nursery rhyme. The bridge was sturdy enough, although obviously old. The path through the trees hadn't been used in a while; grass and weeds dotted the packed dirt here and there. Though not large
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Running Far Afield

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from his window he'd judged the copse to be about a hundred yards across the trees had grown up thick and dense, and little light reached the ground. The wind carried voices to him long before he saw anyone. The trail ended when the trees did. Beyond, a sun-drenched field hosted a decrepit baseball diamond, far different from the impeccable playing fields he was used to. A lonely set of bleachers situated at the first base line leaned precariously. The chain-link backstop was more rusted than not, and two long wooden benches sat where dugouts should have been. None of these details affected the players' enthusiasm. As Aaron meandered toward the infield, stray bits of conversation and uneven bursts of laughter flew back and forth across the field. He slipped onto the bleachers to watch. Keen to see how his skills matched up, Aaron studied each of the players in turn, pleasantly surprised to see some genuine talent in the ragtag group. But it wasn't until his eyes slid from shortstop to first base that his stare was openly returned. The boy at first had short, dark hair framing a tanned face and blue eyes that glared at Aaron from beneath a dusty baseball cap. Even hunched over, hands on knees and ready for the ball, he seemed tall. Dressed in worn jeans, t-shirt, and tattered sneakers, he was Aaron's polar opposite. Aaron couldn't look away. Scowling, the other boy returned the scrutiny. A sharp crack and a sudden frenzy on the field broke their stare. "Play's at first! Chris!" Aaron held his breath as the boy turned just in time to snatch the ball out of midair. In one fluid motion, he tapped the base with his foot and hurled the ball toward second base, forcing the second runner out. Cheers went up from the field as the runner was tagged. "That's three!" The taunting started as the players came together in the middle of the field before breaking off to switch positions. Aaron gave a bittersweet smile as he watched; he missed the camaraderie of his old team more than ever. "You got a problem?" The deep voice, so close, made Aaron jump. The first baseman Play's at first Chris was standing in front of him, hands on his hips.
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Running Far Afield

Libby Drew

Aaron sat up straighter, but kept his voice even when he answered. "No problem." "No one ever told you it's rude to stare?" Aaron opened his mouth to apologize, then closed it again. "You're good," he said instead. Chris cocked his head. The sun bounced off his face, and for a moment, his eyes turned a bright turquoise. Aaron swallowed and stood up. His position on the lower bleacher, a few inches off the ground, put them nearly eye-to-eye. "How long have you been playing?" Chris huffed. "Who the hell are you?" "I'm Aaron Kendrick. We just moved in. Across the river." He made a loose gesture toward the trees. Chris darted a glance over his shoulder. "No kidding? Someone finally bought the castle?" "The castle?" "Yeah, that's what we call it." Chris's gaze swept him head-to-toe. "So you're rich, then." Aaron ignored the visual inspection. If Chris wanted to look him over, then let him. Making a fuss about it would only result in additional teasing. He lifted one shoulder in a careless shrug. "I guess my parents are. We don't really get along that well." "At least you have some." It took him a minute before the meaning registered, and even then he wasn't sure he'd understood. "Money?" "Parents." A cloud drifted in front of the sun, and in the sudden shadow, Chris's eyes turned flinty blue. At a loss, Aaron fell back on his upbringing. "I'm so sorry," he said in a quiet voice. Chris appeared to struggle with himself. Finally he shook his head and looked away. "You're on private property," he said. "This is our field." A clear signal to leave. But Aaron stayed rooted to the spot. His eyes strayed to first base, and the image of Chris leaping for the ball flashed in his mind. "I play baseball," he blurted. "Yeah?" Quick as lightning, Chris dropped the ball from his glove into his other hand and lobbed it at Aaron. Who caught it one-handed. "Yeah," Aaron said. "You guys always one short?"
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Running Far Afield

Libby Drew

Chris arched an eyebrow as Aaron continued. "I only counted seventeen. You're down a player." Chris laughed. He pulled his cap off his head and ran a hand through his hair. He raised his chin. "Im afraid there's a maximum income limit for players." The blatant rejection hurt. That it shouldn't make a difference at all made it hurt even more. Aaron clenched his teeth. He stepped off the bleachers and brushed past Chris. "Whatever." He walked away without looking back, doing his best to swallow the bitter taste on his tongue. "Hey! Hey, Aaron!" Aaron stopped and turned slowly round. Chris pushed his hair back one more time before replacing his hat. He pulled the bill down low over his eyes. "Can I have my ball back?" Aaron's eyes dropped to the baseball still clutched in his fist. He let the laces play over his fingers, relishing the rush of excitement he always felt when he thought of the game. "Sorry," Aaron said under his breath. Too low for Chris to hear, but that was probably for the best. He positioned the ball in his hand, laces lined against his fingers, and hurled it, only to be rewarded with a resounding thump as the ball hit Chris's glove. The surprised grunt of pain provided a second of smug satisfaction before guilt squashed it. "Sorry," he said again, this time much louder. Chris didn't answer, just stared at him with turquoise eyes so Aaron turned and started for the trees. He'd only gone a few feet when Chris called his name again. Aaron turned around with a sigh to find Chris frowning at the baseball nestled in his glove. "Yeah?" he asked. Chris looked up, pensive frown in place. "What position?" "Pitcher." A smile broke out on Chris's face. "I figured. The way you nailed me with the ball." Aaron bit back another instinctive apology. The pride he didn't bother hiding. He shrugged. Chris studied the ball for another minute, then tossed it back to Aaron. "Can you be here at about ten tomorrow morning?" Aaron caught the ball effortlessly. He nodded.

Running Far Afield

Libby Drew

"Great." Chris started walking backward toward the field. "See ya, Aaron." He winked before turning around and running back to his teammates. Aaron spent most of the rest of the day smiling. *** He refused to look like an eager puppy. It was still only quarter to nine when he started through the trees, so halfway down the path he stopped and sat on a fallen log. After another glance at his watch, he dug a slightly crushed power bar out of his pocket. He looked all around as he chewed, still amazed at how dark and forbidding the small patch of woods felt. Creepy, his mother would have called it. But like the twisting stairs leading to his room, he found it comforting. "Hey." Aaron shot to his feet, heart thumping. "Whoa. Calm down." Chris gave a soft laugh and steadied Aaron when he lurched upright. "Sorry. Didn't mean to scare you." "You didn't. Just startled me." Self-conscious, Aaron reached down for his sports bag and threw it over his shoulder. He glanced up at Chris. "What are you doing here?" "What are you doing here?" Aaron didn't sense any challenge in the words. He held up his half-eaten bar. "Having breakfast." "Cool." Chris grinned. "Ready to play?" Aaron nodded. He decided to let the topic of Chris's presence on the path go, since he'd so neatly evaded the question the first time. "Gonna finish that?" Chris pointed to the power bar. "Um. No." He couldn't help laughing when Chris snatched it out of his grip and shoved it into his mouth. "Let's go," he said around his mouthful. They made it to the field in less than five minutes. Chris chattered almost the entire way. Aaron didn't speak at all.
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Running Far Afield

Libby Drew

"Since you're new here, I'm guessing you don't know about us." "Huh?" Aaron asked, his first word since Chris had stolen his power bar. "Do you know about the RSY?" "No. Sorry." "Why are you sorry?" Chris bumped their shoulders together. Feeling a strange mixture of disconcerted and breathless, Aaron edged away. "Don't be sorry," Chris continued. "It stands for the Ridgton School for Youth. I'm sure you'll hear all about us troublemakers soon enough." "Troublemakers?" "Yeah. You know, criminals and juvenile delinquents." He caught Aaron's eye and winked. A spark of excitement flared in Aaron's chest, but he tamped it down. A few seconds later, his mind finally processed what his body had reacted to immediately. He frowned. "Is this ajail or something?" "Some might say so." Chris laughed at Aaron's poorly masked shock. "No, I'm kidding. It's a school. But we're all wards of the state." Aaron nodded, remembering the conversation from the day before. "Orphans." "No. Not all," Chris said. And he left it at that. *** The team stood in a tight group, watching. "Hey guys," Chris said, "this is Aaron. The guy I told you about at dinner last night." A chorus of half-hearted greetings echoed back. Most of the others just stared at him. Aaron made sure to meet and hold every single pair of eyes. He had no confidence issues when it came to baseball. "So," Chris was saying. "Since Rob's gone and obviously not coming back, let's give him a shot." "Why?" one kid asked, sneer in place. "It's not like he can join the team when school starts. Unless, you know, he lands himself in here by doing something really stupid." "Like... dating your sister?" Aaron asked, voice deadpan.
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Running Far Afield

Libby Drew

He allowed himself a small smile when the rest of the group broke into laughter. Wit he owned in spades, even if he rarely employed it. Five minutes and four words was all it took to become part of their group. But more importantly at least to Aaron he became part of their team. Sometimes he marveled at how easy people were. Chris tossed him the ball as the players took their positions. "You're pitching. Show us what you got." Playing the game for fun wasn't something Aaron was used to. After striking out three batters in a row, he began pulling back on his pitches. Two minutes later, though, Chris was on the field and in his face. "Don't," he said, standing god so close next to him on the mound. "Don't ease up. They don't deserve easy pitches. If they can't hit the hard ones, they shouldn't be here. Okay?" He smiled, but his serious tone reminded Aaron that not everyone on the field was playing strictly for fun. "Got it." But when Chris stepped up to bat, Aaron's concentration faltered. After three balls and no strikes, he cursed and stepped off the mound, trying to calm himself. To his surprise, encouraging chatter popped up all around him. It didn't help his hands stop shaking. "What's up?" Aaron cringed when he realized Chris had walked up to him. "Nothing. Sorry. I'm just getting tired." Chris slung the bat over his shoulder. "What? All of a sudden?" "Listen, I don't feel like I'm helping you guys practice by throwing every single player out." "Do you really think you can strike me out?" Aaron blinked. "Yeah," he said with a sarcastic laugh. "I do." "I haven't struck out in two years." "What? That's impossible."

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Running Far Afield

Libby Drew

Chris nodded. "It's true. And I don't plan on breaking my streak today. Do your worst, but" he started walking backward off the mound, cocky smile in place, "you really don't have a chance in hell." Struck dumb, Aaron watched him walk away. His resolve returned twice over, overshadowing the strange desire to have Chris like him no matter what. "I'll be sorry to see your record broken," he called out as Chris stepped up to the plate. "Just throw your balls, pretty boy." A wink and a smile put the words into perspective, but Aaron's stomach still flipped from hearing them. Chris hit a triple off his first pitch. Aaron watched him speed through the bases, kicked-up dust swirling in miniature twisters behind him, and realized he'd never been so happy to lose a bet in all his life. That was his third day in Ridgton. *** On the seventh day, Aaron emerged from the cool shadow of the trees to find the field empty except for Chris and the heat already unforgiving. "There you are," Chris said as Aaron reached the infield. "I was getting tired of trying to throw balls to myself." Despite the ridiculousness of the image, Aaron could picture it perfectly as he could any scenario in which Chris featured. He snorted. "What is this, little league?" Chris tossed him the ball and took off toward home plate. "Uh, yeah," he called over his shoulder. "You might want to watch who you're calling little, shortie." Aaron stooped to get his glove out of his bag. "Where is everyone?" "Field trip." Aaron paused and glanced up through his bangs. "Field trip? Are you kidding?" Chris spread his hands, bat in one, plate-brush in the other. "Hey, in case you hadn't noticed, it's hot as shit. They went to the lake for the day." He bent to brush the dust from the base. Aaron watched, struggling to keep silent. But as Chris tossed the brush aside and took a few practice swings, he couldn't help himself. "Why didn't you go?" Chris swung a few more times before answering. "I forgot to tell you about it."
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Running Far Afield

Libby Drew

"I would've figured it out when nobody showed up." "Whatever. You gonna pitch or what?" The abrupt tone stung. He turned away before Chris saw, tossed his bag to the side, and grabbed a ball from the bucket at his feet. "Sure." He threw the first ball and sighed as Chris slammed it far into left field. He plucked another from the pile. "Aaron." Aaron squinted at him through the harsh sunlight. "Yeah?" "I didn't really want to go. To the lake, I mean. I'd rather do this." The pocket of tension in Aaron's chest loosened. "I'd rather do this-" with you "-too." Chris grinned and straightened his hat. "That the best you got? 'Cause I've gotta tell you, it gets old hitting every single pitch you throw." Aaron snapped the ball toward the plate, grinning when it thwacked Chris on the butt. "Cocky much?" "Ow! Shit! Now I want a handicap." "Shut up," Aaron laughed. "Ready?" It took the whole bucket, but he struck Chris out. Twice. *** The heat drove them from the field an hour later. "God, I hate August." Chris leaned back on the bleachers, then recoiled with a hiss. "Damn!" "Hot?" Aaron glanced up before continuing to stuff equipment back into his bag. "Shit! Yeah." Aaron chuckled. He slid his glove inside and pulled the zipper closed before looking up. "You should've-" The statement dried up in his mouth. Chris was pulling his shirt over his head. It stuck around his neck for a moment, affording Aaron three seconds of unabashed staring, before Chris gave it another forceful tug and tore it free. Aaron dropped his eyes to his bag and fiddled with the zipper.
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Running Far Afield

Libby Drew

In his peripheral vision, he watched as Chris mopped his face and neck with this t-shirt, then spread it out over the heated metal behind him. When he leaned back the second time, he sighed. "Much better." Aaron's gaze crept upwards. "Good," he said, mouth dry. He stayed crouched on the ground by his bag. "Hey," Chris blocked the sun's glare with a hand over his eyes. "Aren't you hot?" Yes god yes. "No. I'm fine." He slid onto the lowest bench. He pulled a leg to his chest and set his chin on his knee. Determined not to look at Chris, he focused on the rooftops of the buildings he could see just beyond the hill. "Is that the RSY?" He sensed Chris shift behind him. "Yeah." "You live and go to school there?" "Yeah," Chris said, sounding groggy. He pointed lazily. "Dorms are one side, academic buildings on the other. Gym and dining hall in the middle." Aaron barely held back the meaningless banality that sprang to his lips. He doubted, 'sounds nice,' would be an appreciated sentiment. While he was struggling with what to say, Chris sat up. "I can't stand this heat. Let's go someplace cooler." Aaron turned around, keeping his eyes glued to Chris's face. "Where?" Chris grabbed his shirt and jumped down to sit beside Aaron and what had been a bearable situation before suddenly tested Aaron's resolve to a far greater degree. While Chris fiddled to get his shirt right side out, Aaron watched a trickle of perspiration slide down his chest, pause briefly on his nipple, then roll down the flat plane of his stomach. He leapt off the bench. "What's wrong with you?" Chris asked. "Nothing." Aaron grabbed his bag and slung it over his shoulder. "How about the woods? It's always cool in there." He glanced over his shoulder. Chris hadn't moved. He stared at Aaron, t-shirt still clutched in his hands, bemused expression on his face. "Sure," he said quietly. "That's fine."

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*** Walking in the woods after practice became a daily habit. Aaron discovered that Chris did it often, which explained his presence on the path that first morning. Two days before school started, when the other members of the team trudged back to the dining hall for lunch, Chris and Aaron retreated into the cool gloom of the trees. The temperature fell ten degrees as soon as they stepped onto the path, and an involuntary sigh of relief escaped Aaron's lips. "Amen," Chris mumbled. He led Aaron to a secluded spot, off the main trail and in view of the water. If Aaron squinted, he could just see his house around a bend in the river. Its nickname started to make sense. It did look like a castle from where he was standing. Chris caught him staring. "You like your new house?" He dug in his pack as he talked, pulling out his offering for the day. Two apples and two slightly-crushed packs of Twinkies. Aaron sank down onto the grass and pulled out two salami sandwiches. He shrugged. "It's okay." "It's freaking huge. Your room must be sweet." "It's in the tower." Chris gaped at him. "No way." "Yep." "Wow." Chris found a patch of spongy grass and sat down, cross-legged. "What was your other house like? The one you moved from. Just as big?" Aaron handed over a sandwich. "No, not really. We only rented it, actually, 'cause my dad's consulting job there was only for six months. We move around a lot." Chris took the sandwich, but ripped open a pack of Twinkies instead. "I remember what that was like. Kind of." His voice turned soft. "We moved a lot, too. But it wasn't- It was-" He ended with a shrug. The temptation to reach out, to touch and comfort, was overwhelming. Aaron busied his hands with the cap on his Pepsi bottle before they betrayed him. God knew how Chris would react, and he wasn't going to risk losing the best friend he'd had in years over some misunderstood gesture.
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Libby Drew

Because it probably wouldn't be misunderstood, and that, in a nutshell, was the problem. "Isn't that hard on you? I mean, making new friends all the time?" Chris asked as he swallowed the last of the yellow cake. Aaron shrugged. "I have baseball." Chris grunted and took a huge bite of his second Twinkie. Aaron rolled his eyes, and Chris flashed a grin. "You really should try it," he said. "No, thanks." Chris held up the crumbling remains. Filling oozed onto his fingers. "I'm telling the truth, man. There's a valid medical reason for eating your dessert first." "What would that be? Lack of impulse control?" Aaron bit into his sandwich. "When you eat dessert first, the sugar is the first thing your body processes. Less of it is retained to make fat." Chris lifted his t-shirt and patted his stomach. "You're thin as a rail. What are you worried about?" Aaron mumbled. His eyes strayed to Chris's hand where it rested on his abdomen. The bread felt like sandpaper in his mouth. "Gotta stay fast. For the game. Cant have any fat. Anywhere." It was past time to cut off the line of conversation. Aaron cast about for something to say, and his eyes fell on the swirling water a few feet away. "Do you ever swim in the river?" "Why?" Chris unwrapped his sandwich. "Feel like skinny-dipping?" "No!" Chris burst out laughing. "Easy, princess. I was only kidding." And that, Aaron found, upset him more that the original suggestion. He bent over his sandwich, picked at the crust, and tried to work out the reason for the sharp stab of pain in his chest. That was his fourteenth day in Ridgton. *** On the sixteenth day, the school year began. The start of classes was the same as it had always been. Different schools made little difference; he understood that by now. By noon, when the confusion of the morning had eased
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into first-day blues, Aaron was ensconced tentatively within a group of new friends mostly other baseball jocks. His natural inclination to follow, to be inconspicuous, but witty when he chose to speak, guaranteed near instant acceptance. The group dynamic made some things easier. Other times, it was excruciating. "Got a girlfriend, Aaron?" Aaron played with his sandwich. "Back home." "You guys serious?" "Yeah." "Too bad. Gina McAfee was checking you out in Physics." Aaron crumpled up the remains of his lunch and threw it across the table, where it fell perfectly into the trashcan. "She'll just have to admire me from afar." When the laughter started, he joined in. *** He waved to his mother on his way through the house, and even though he passed within a few feet of her, she didn't say anything. He stopped in the kitchen long enough to grab a Pepsi before heading over to the baseball field. He emerged from the trees at a jog, but slowed immediately. Chris and the rest of the team were gathered in a loose group on the pitcher's mound, talking. Chris spied him immediately. He met Aaron halfway across the field. "Hey." He touched Aaron's arm, just for a moment. "School's in, so we'll have either practice or a game every day. Sorry, I'm not sure you'll be able to play." "It's okay." Unable to help himself, Aaron returned the brief touch. "I'll just watch." "You sure?" Aaron nodded. "Sure." He stuffed his hands in his pockets. "How long do you practice?" "Couple of hours, but then we're required to be back in either the dorms or one of the academic buildings by six." He frowned. "Sorry. It sucks, I know." "It's okay-"

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"Hey, I want you to meet someone," Chris interrupted. "Come on." He grabbed Aaron by the arm and pulled him forward. "This is Mr. Dickson," he said, stopping in front of a man about Aaron's father's age, but with a slighter build. "He runs this zoo." Aaron's eyes widened at the veiled insult, but Mr. Dickson laughed. "That's what we call it on a good day." He held out his hand. "So this is the famous Aaron." Aaron did the same and was treated to a strong shake. "Famous?" "I gotta go. Practice is starting," Chris cut in. He punched Aaron's arm. "You're staying, right?" "Ow." Aaron glared and rubbed the sore spot. "Yes, you jerk." "Okay. Later." He took off and began to direct people to various points on the field. Aaron smiled after him. "May I sit with you?" Mr. Dickson's words pulled him from his trance. "What? Oh, yeah. Sure," Aaron stuttered. They walked to the bleachers together. Aaron climbed up without a second thought, but Mr. Dickson stopped to shake his head at the broken seats. "These kids deserve better," he said as he carefully chose a semi-flat spot to sit. "They really do." "They don't care," Aaron felt compelled to say. "They just want to play." Mr. Dickson flashed him a wry smile. "Thank you for saying so. Well, AaronChris speaks quite highly of you." A flash of pleasure raced through him. He couldn't quite hold back the grin. "Really?" "I wanted to personally thank you for what you've done these past few weeks." Mr. Dickson turned around to face him. "I wasn't sure what kind of play they'd get in with their first-string pitcher gone, and" He paused and looked across the field at the team, "they didn't want to miss the practice time. Winning is important to them. Probably more important than it ever was to you." He refocused on Aaron. "Do you understand what I'm trying to say?" Aaron returned the serious look with one of his own. "I think so." "It gives them confidence. Makes them feel worth-while. Self-worth. That's what they need when they leave here. Most of these boys have never had the benefit of a stable, supportive relationship with their parents," he aimed a finger at Aaron, "like I'm sure you have." "Oh," Aaron said, voice tight.
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"So thank you." "I- You're welcome." Aaron wanted to add how his intentions had been less than noble. That he hadn't given a thought to anyone but Chris. But the compliments had left him warm, and he'd gone too long without heartfelt praise. "It was nothing," he said with a half-smile. "Really." Mr. Dickson nodded. "You're good people, Aaron. Don't let anyone ever tell you otherwise." *** Aaron dropped his eyes to his notebook when he saw the principal appear outside the classroom door. "Mrs. Schratz?" he asked, leaning over the threshold. "May I borrow Aaron for a moment?" His teacher nodded and smiled at the principal. "Of course, Mr. Rost. Go ahead, Aaron." The winks and playful jabs from his classmates did nothing to alleviate Aaron's tension. Nor did Mr. Rost's overfriendly smile. "How are you adjusting, Aaron?" he asked as they walked slowly down the hall. Before Aaron could answer, Mr. Rost stopped by a door that led into the quad. "Beautiful day, don't you think? Let's not waste it." Aaron wet his lips. "Okay." "So," Mr. Rose continued when they'd found a couple of sunny benches, "how do you like life at Ridgton Academy?" "It's nice." "Making new friends?" "Yes." Aaron nodded for emphasis. "Good!" Mr. Rost leaned back and crossed his legs. His eyes bore into Aaron. "You haven't signed up for baseball. When I met your father, he said you loved it." "I do." "Excellent! Well, let's not waste any more time. The year's two weeks gone. Let's get you on the team. I know you're already friendly with several of the players."

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Aaron's heart began to pound. He rubbed sweaty palms on his jeans. "Well-" "You can start practicing today not that you'll need much, if everything I've heard is true." Mr. Rost winked again. "But we're quite dedicated to teamwork here at the Academy. Teamwork and quality. The boys practice every day after school." "Every day?" Aaron echoed. "And four hours on Saturday. Games will be starting next week, so there's no time to waste. Come by the gym after school and I'll-" "Wait," Aaron interrupted. "Just... wait." His hands clutched the edge of the bench. "I'm not sure I want to play." "You're not sure?" The mocking tone gave him the resolve he needed. "I'm sure. I don't want to play. Not now. Maybe... maybe in the spring." He stood. "And... I'd appreciate it if you let me be the one to tell my dad. I know he's going to be disappointed, but I think he should hear it from me. Okay?" Mr. Rost appeared at a loss for words. Eventually, he managed, "I think that's a very mature attitude. Very well. If that's what you want." "It is." The weight of Mr. Rost's stare followed him out of the quad. *** Aaron spent every day after school at the RSY. Chris had fixed it so that he played with the team whenever he wanted, except during scrimmages. He told Aaron the guys were happy to have him, and after hearing some of the others chime in with similar opinions, Aaron decided to believe him. His parents never asked where he was, though he suspected they knew. Sometimes he liked to imagine that they were afraid of him. Wednesdays meant scrimmages, so Aaron took advantage of the time to catch up on his homework. Admittedly, it was slow going with Chris playing first-base a scant twenty feet away. Aaron's focus slipped every time he made a play. Chris throwing smiles his way every so often didn't help, and this week was no exception. Aaron groaned to himself and buried his face in his textbook. Shortly after that, Chris leapt onto the bleachers, grinning at Aaron's hiss of irritation when the resultant shake made his papers slide off his lap. He gathered them up, but every time he tried
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Running Far Afield

Libby Drew

to write, Chris bounced up and down, knocking the tip of his pen off the page. Secretly pleased, but outwardly annoyed, Aaron shot him a dirty look. "Thought you were watching the game," Chris said. Aaron shrugged. "I had homework. And it's just a scrimmage." His gaze slid to Chris before darting back to his notebook. "I watched." "Yeah?" Aaron nodded, eyes still glued to his notes. "Yeah." Fading laughter echoed back across the field. Aaron looked up to see the last of Chris's classmates starting back across the lawn toward the dorms. Dust swirled across the field, stirred by a gust of wind. A forgotten baseball cap rolled lazily across the third-base line. Chris sat down, easing close. "History?" He glanced over at Aaron's notebook. "Yeah. Sucks." "It's okay." Chris shrugged. "Depends what kind you're talking about." Aaron pulled the book from his pack and held it up. Chris wrinkled his nose. "American. Yeah, that sucks. I don't mind ancient history, though. You know, Greece, Troy, the Roman Empire. That kind of stuff." Aaron smiled. He turned his head just enough to meet Chris's eyes. "Me either." Chris held Aaron's stare. He held perfectly still, not speaking, just looking. Another gust of wind stung Aaron's face, stealing his breath. Then it died and he realized his lungs had been empty to begin with. Paralyzed, unable to breathe, his fingers tightened on the spirals of his notebook. "You okay?" Chris asked. He slid closer. Aaron managed a nod and a small smile. "I'm fine." Until Chris put a hand on his knee. Aaron gasped, struggling for air that stayed stubbornly out of reach. His pulse pounded in his ears. His skin prickled with heat. "Aaron?" Chris fingers tightened over his kneecap. Then his thumb Jesus, he couldn't breathe, he couldn't breathe began to move, rolling in small circles over the rough denim of Aaron's jeans.
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"Is this okay?" Chris whispered. "Is it okay?" Aaron's mouth fell open, and he nodded. Chris was the first to look away, dropping his eyes to where his hand lay on Aaron's leg. Aaron followed suit, startled into taking a deep breath when he saw how Chris's fingers were trembling. "Chris! Hey, Chris!" Aaron jerked away, knocking his backpack to the ground and spilling the contents over the grass. "Fuck!" he exclaimed, terrified at how his body was shaking Far across the field, another boy from RSY was gesturing to Chris. "Chris! Dickson's looking for you, man! You're ten minutes late." "Shit," Chris whispered. He pulled a hand through his hair and stood. Rather unsteadily, Aaron noticed. "Sorry about-" he pointed at Aaron's pack. "No problem." "Sorry about- Sorry." Still, he didn't move. Aaron clutched the notebook in his hands, pressed it tight against his lap. "It's okay." Chris jumped off the bleachers. "You'll be back tomorrow, right?" He didn't look at Aaron when he spoke. In a small way, Chris's discomfort eased his own. Aaron smiled. "Yeah. I'll see you tomorrow." Chris grinned back. "Awesome." That was his thirty-first day in Ridgton. *** On the thirty-second day, his father came home from work early. Aaron was immediately on guard. "Damn contract workers," his dad said as they sat down to dinner. "They're the ones putting this company out of business." He shook his head as he spread his napkin in his lap. "Four out of five of them showed up to the customer meeting today in jeans. Jeans."

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"Wow," Aaron said, hoping it conveyed the right amount of interest. Not too little. Not too much. His father poured his mother a glass of wine. "Never forget how important presentation is, Aaron. First impressions can make or break a deal." "Okay." "The same goes for a company. Or a person." "Okay." Nobody spoke for ten minutes. Aaron began to hope he'd misinterpreted the reason for their rare family dinner. Then his father cleared his throat. "I talked to Mr. Rost this afternoon." He paused to spoon more mashed potatoes into his mouth. "I told him where you were spending most of your free time these days. Do you know what he said?" More potatoes, smothered in gravy, interrupted the speech. Aaron shot a look at his mother, unsurprised to find her involved in her latest magazine. "No, I have no idea." "He said those boys you've been spending so much time with live at the Ridgton School for Youth. In fact, that baseball field is on their property. Did you know that?" Aaron swirled his fork through a river of gravy. "I guess. So what?" "Aaron, the Ridgton School for Youth is a place for delinquent boys. Boys in trouble with the law." "Not anymore." He capped his statement with a mouthful of peas. "What?" "Not anymore," he said once he'd swallowed. "That's why they're there. It's supposed to be a second chance, you know? To be better." His father mumbled something under his breath. "So you did know?" his mother asked, nose still buried in her magazine. Aaron's temper stirred. "Yeah. So? They... it's okay. They're fine." "We just don't want you making friends with the wrong sort." His mother reached for her wine glass. Her eyes strayed back to the glossy print immediately.
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"The wrong sort," Aaron repeated. "We don't want you." His father sighed. "We just want you to make some friends at your school. Don't exclude yourself. People will notice. The other kids will notice. They may not understand your... friendship with these boys. We're thinking of you." He turned back to his dinner. "That's right, dear," his mother said. Aaron opened his mouth, closed it again. He grabbed for his water and drained the glass in three gulps. "Thanks," he said. He swiped his hand over his mouth. "Thanks for thinking of me." "We love you." His mother smiled. "We trust your judgment." His father smiled. Aaron ate more peas. *** He was too tired for homework. The metal bleacher dug into his shoulder blades when he lay down, but he concentrated on the soothing sounds of the baseball game in the background and soon dozed off. Filtered through the haze of half-sleep, his troubles faded from a sharp pain to a dull ache. Chris's voice roused him. "A blonde storms into a bar-" Aaron interrupted without opening his eyes. "Get some new material. You used that on me last week." When the silence stretched for more than a minute, Aaron cursed silently. He'd been in a foul mood all day, and now he was taking it out on Chris. He lifted himself onto his elbows, opened his eyes, and squinted against the bright sun. Expecting to be alone, he started when he saw Chris standing over him. "Bad hair day, Princess? Thought the blonde jokes didn't bother you." Aaron bit back a testy reply and flopped back down onto the bleachers. "You're gonna get sunburned," Chris continued in the same teasing tone. "It's almost October." "You're as pale as a ghost. You'd burn in the middle of winter." Aaron crossed his arms over his face. "Didn't know you cared."
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More silence, and Aaron cursed himself again. "Sorry," he said in a low voice. He kept his face covered. "What's wrong?" Aaron shook his head. "Nothing. My dad's an ass," he added under his breath. Chris didn't answer, and Aaron realized he'd stuck his foot in his mouth yet again. "I know, at least I have one, right?" "That's not what I was gonna say." Aaron heard him sit down on the bench below his. "What'd he do?" With his eyes closed, the words spilled easily from his mouth. Maybe that's why people liked to talk in the dark. "Just said some things. Stupid things. He always knows how to make me feel-" He broke off, struggling to find the word he wanted. Fingers brushed the side of his face. Tucked a strand of hair behind his ear. Lingered on his throat. "Make you feel what?" "Alone." Chris's fingers stroked his cheek. "You're not alone." *** His father left a message at the school office. Don't take the bus. I'll be there to pick you up. Aaron thanked the secretary for the note, then sat in the bathroom for twenty minutes until the nausea passed, telling himself over and over that there was no way his father could know. That he arrived a half hour late long after the buses had left added to Aaron's agitation. He'd wanted to see Chris before he left for his game, wish him good luck, but now there wouldn't be time. Dark clouds followed their car as they drove away from the school. Aaron threw his backpack on the floor and stared out the window. It was easier to wait his father out, even if it was cowardly. "So," his dad began, "Mr. Rost called. Apparently, you've decided against playing fall ball this year." Traitor. "Yes."
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His father's voice took on an edge. "May I ask why?" Aaron shrugged. "I know you still love the game. You could do a lot for this team. And Jesus, Aaron," his dad gave a clipped laugh, "it could be your ticket, you know. You're good enough." He punctuated his statement by slapping the steering wheel. Aaron scraped his tongue across his teeth and stared out the window. "I wasn't aware I needed a ticket." The car screeched to a halt. "You presumptuous little" His father spun toward him, finger outstretched, jabbing to emphasize every word. "I'm sick and tired of your attitude. I'd say it was the move, but you've been like this since before we ever got to Ridgton. Now what I want to know is... when did I give you permission to throw your life away?" Reflected in the window, Aaron's father looked like a great, red-faced ogre. Aaron imagined he could see spittle flying from his mouth as he swung his metaphorical club. "You don't want to play ball fine! You want to hang out with hooligans and forego real friends fine! But don't think for one minute that I will support you for being a lazy, little faggot." Aaron went cold with fear. Then hot with rage, but before he could relish the unusual show of assertiveness, it was gone. "Why would you say that?" he asked in a shaky voice. "Aw shit, Aaron. You know what I meant. Don't take it personally." His dad sighed. "I just don't want to see you throw away everything you've worked for." "By being a lazy, little faggot." He couldn't completely wring the bitterness from his words. "Exactly. You need to make a better impression, understand? Hang out with new people. Go places besides that damn baseball field. Get a girlfriend. You can't tell me you don't want that." He could, but he wouldn't. What was the point? They drove in silence after that. The day got darker, the clouds more ominous. "I've got to get back to work," his father said as they pulled into the long driveway. "Think about what we talked about, okay?"

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Aaron grabbed his pack and jumped out before the car had even stopped rolling. His dad said something, called his name, but Aaron pretended not to hear. He loped up the steps and slipped into the house. His mother was sitting in the breakfast nook, chatting on the phone, her perfectly manicured hands flipping idly through a magazine as she talked. She never saw him come into the kitchen to grab a bag of chips and a Pepsi. As he was about to duck up the rear stairs, something out on the lawn caught his eye. Aaron froze, hand on the banister, and squinted out the window. Chris was standing by the bridge, staring up at the house. Aaron smiled for the first time that day. *** Chris ducked into the stairwell behind Aaron. "So, I guess it says something that you had to sneak me into your house." Despite the implication in his words, Chris smiled when he said them. "I didn't sneak you." Aaron led him up the stairs to his room. Chris laughed as he followed. "Man, this really is like a castle. He swatted the back of Aaron's head. "And you're the princess." "Shut up." When they reached the top, Aaron closed the door behind them. He let Chris look around and smiled when he whistled at the seven curved windows that graced the turret wall. "So," he said. "No game today?" "It's gonna rain." "Yeah, but it's not raining yet. Since when do you call a game of baseball 'cause itmight rain?" Chris bent over to examine Aaron's computer. "It was supposed to be against St. Fidelis. They called it off." He snickered. "They just didn't want to get the shit beaten out of them." Aaron rolled his eyes. "Modest." "It's the truth."
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It was, Aaron knew. Chris moved to examine Aaron's overflowing bookshelf. He glanced over his shoulder and arched a brow. "Classic Greek Myths: The Truth Behind the Stories. Little bit of light reading before bed?" Aaron shrugged and crossed behind Chris to sit on the window seat. "I told you I liked mythology. Greek and Roman mostly. I mean" He cleared his throat, "it's not all so farfetched. Look at how many people believed in it?" Chris ran a finger over the book's spine. "That makes it more real?" "It made it more real to them." Aaron turned to crank the window open. A cool breeze rushed in, ruffling his hair. He tried to tuck it behind his ear, but the wind kept blowing it into his face. "It's hard to explain" he laughed self-consciously. "I just like it." He turned back to find Chris staring at him. Nervously, he pushed his hair back again, and Chris's eyes followed the movement. Just before the silence became awkward, Chris spoke. "I like it, too. Even if most of the stories are pretty awful." "Yeah, I know." Aaron shrugged again. "But some turn out okay." Chris joined him on the window seat. "I took Ancient History last year. I remember thinking... how could these people get away with some of the stuff that they did? It's like there were no laws." He scooted backward, rested his back against the opposite wall, and brought his legs up next to Aaron's. "And it was like nobody had a conscience. Greek myths are full of innocent people being killed." "Some of them deserved it." Chris's foot nudged Aaron's thigh. Then returned a moment later to rub against the same spot. Aaron clamped his mouth shut and folded his hands together in his lap. Chris babbled on, oblivious. "This one king locked his daughter in a tower because someone told him she would bear a son who would kill him. Are you telling me she deserved that?" He shot Aaron a disbelieving look. "If he was so worried, why not just kill her?" "Because he loved her." "Then when she got pregnant anyway, he set her adrift at sea. That's love?" "He was " a coward, a bigot, a monster " scared." Aaron shifted his leg away from Chris's teasing toes. He leant his forehead against the window. "It's just a story."
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Chris's hand, large and warm, landed on Aaron's foot. "Hey. Did I say something wrong?" He squeezed Aaron's ankle, grazing the skin between the top of his sock and the hem of his pants. In answer because words and their secret meanings consistently eluded him Aaron's hand crept across the cushion and slid up onto Chris's leg. The window glass cooled his cheek, but his skin burned under Chris's palm, joining the heat that was vibrating low in his stomach and inching outward. Aroused enough to be dizzy, he managed to rub a clumsy path over Chris's leg from ankle to knee and back again while Chris traced patterns on his skin with rough fingertips. And for that short time, everything was perfect at the top of his tower. *** Aaron looked forward to Fridays. Chris always stayed late after practice, and when the sun went down, they sat close together on the bleachers and talked. Occasionally, when the air turned cool with the setting sun, Chris slipped an arm around the small of Aaron's back or squeezed a hand between his knees, and Aaron would drink up his warmth. Sometimes, once dusk had turned most things to shadow, Aaron laid his head on Chris's shoulder. Each touch still left him tingling, breathless, and wary, and Chris either sensed it or felt the same way, because he never asked for more. Consequently, on Fridays, Aaron's ability to concentrate was nonexistent. He did notice rain clouds gathering around noon, and by the time school let out, a steady rain was falling. He brooded all the way home, and although one look at the sky warned him the weather was only getting worse, he slipped on a light jacket and walked to the field anyway. October rain always felt like liquid ice after the storms of summer. Aaron turned his collar up and ran until he was over the bridge and into the woods. He berated himself for making what was surely a wasted trip, until he emerged onto the field and saw Chris, sitting on the bleachers under a huge stadium umbrella. His bad mood lifted immediately. "Hey!" Aaron jogged over, sloshing through puddles the whole way. "I didn't think you'd be here." "But you came anyway?" Chris asked, voice soft. Aaron's mind raced for an excuse. Then Chris smiled, a soft, barely-there smile that matched his voice, and Aaron laughed under his breath. "Yeah."
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A gust of wind kicked rain into his face. He grimaced and shivered as it trickled underneath his collar. "Get over here." Chris motioned him forward. "This thing's big enough for an army." Aaron laughed and ducked under the umbrella. He lowered himself onto the bench next to Chris. "Thanks." "Anytime." This Friday was different. Aaron sensed it right away. For one, Chris had barely said half a dozen words, when he usually chattered non-stop. For another, he touched Aaron immediately a warm, damp hand on the back of his neck. "Are you cold?" he asked in the same quiet voice. Aaron shook his head. "You sure?" "Yeah." A comfortable silence fell between them. Chris alternated running his fingers through Aaron's hair and stroking the skin at the base of his neck. Sighing, Aaron leaned into him, relishing the warm finger touch near constant jolts of arousal. The rain picked up, falling from the sky in a torrent. Aaron squinted, but he couldn't see past the thick curtain of water. It sluiced off the umbrella in a tight circle around them as the noise of the storm grew to a dull, crackly roar. Alone in the world. Just the two of them. It was exactly what Aaron dreamed about. Every night in bed he thought about what he'd say what he'd do to Chris if there was no one else in the world to hear. "Look," he whispered. He frowned when his voice barely carried over the pounding rain. "Look," he said louder. "I am looking," Chris said, and his breath ghosted over Aaron's ear. Aaron turned to face him. "I love this. It's perfect." Chris laughed. "You're so strange." "I know." Aaron chuckled and turned back to the rain. "But I don't care." Chris's fingers crept back to tease at Aaron's hair where it curled along his throat. "Me either."
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Eventually, the rain slowed, became a slow drizzle, and then stopped altogether. Basking in Chris's touch, Aaron barely noticed. "Hey." Chris licked his lips. "You want to come over to the school for a while?" Roused from his daydream, Aaron frowned. "I thought that wasn't allowed." "It's not usually, but I asked Dickson and he said you could come anytime you wanted." Chris turned to him, eyes alight. "We could grab a pizza from the dining hall and eat in my room." Aaron's heart jumped in his chest. "Is that okay with your roommate?" he asked. "He's not here." Chris's fingers tightened on Aaron's shoulder. "He's got a court-ordered weekend with his parents." For several seconds, the only sound was the soft drizzle of the fading storm. "Oh," Aaron breathed. "Okay." Chris nodded, but didn't pull away. "You sure?" "I'm sure." So that Chris knew how sure, Aaron moved a hand onto his thigh and squeezed gently. The clouds still hung gray and low, but the rain had stopped. Chris folded the umbrella and threw it under the bleachers. "Come on." They walked across the field and up the grassy hill on the other side. Aaron's footsteps slowed as they reached the peak. He'd never seen the RSY, but from the way Chris and the others spoke of it, he had a vague idea of what to expect. To his surprise, the group of low-rise brick buildings that came into view reminded him more of a college campus than an orphanage for juvenile delinquents. They stepped off the grass and onto a concrete path that wound between groups of trees, picnic tables, and benches. Even though the cooler weather has erased the beauty of the summer plantings, Aaron was still awed by the care taken with the landscaping. "It's not what I expected," he admitted. Chris stared at the ground as he walked. "Yeah, I figured." "I didn't mean-" "I know. It's okay." Chris shot him a wry smile. "That's why I wanted you to see it. Come on. I'm starving. Let's get dinner."
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He led Aaron down a winding, treed path between the academic buildings and into a large quad, not unlike the one at the Academy. Aaron smiled at the irony. "Hey, Mr. Dickson," Chris called out suddenly. Aaron glanced up and saw Mr. Dickson on another path beside them. His steps faltered. Though Chris had assured him he wasnt breaking any rules, he felt a quick stab of apprehension. Mr. Dickson's smile put him at ease. "Hello, Chris. Aaron! What a pleasant surprise." He pumped Aaron's hand and clapped him on the shoulder. "How are you?" "Fine." "And a little damp." "Yeah," Aaron said with a laugh. "We, uh... got stuck on the field during the rain." "Ahh," Mr. Dickson said. "I see." Then he winked. Aaron froze. "I thought it was a good day to have Aaron come by," Chris said, unaffected by the unspoken exchange. "Any day is fine where Aaron is concerned." "So... I was going to pick up a pizza from the dining hall so we could eat in my room. Is that okay?" For the first time, Aaron saw a shadow of uncertainty worry concern cross Mr. Dickson's face. Chris must have read the hesitation as well. "It's just that, I'm not sure he'd be comfortable aroundwith everybody. I mean, he knows the team, but." his voice trailed off. After a moment, Mr. Dickson's face cleared. "No, you're right. That's probably for the best. I'm headed that way myself. I'll stop and let them know it's all right." Chris nudged Aaron and winked. "Great!" "And don't forget about the movie later, boys," Mr. Dickson said as he walked away. "Seven o'clock in the gym." Aaron just smiled weakly, thrown off guard by Chris, by Mr. Dickson, by the possibility of what would happen once they were alone in Chris's room, and by being winked at twice in the span of two minutes.
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"See?" Chris said once Mr. Dickson had left. "Told you." Do you think he knows? Aaron wanted to ask. But he suspected Chris might answer with, Knows what? And Aaron had no idea how to answer that. "Yep," Aaron said, "you did." *** Chris's enthusiasm waned as they climbed the steps up to his building. He balanced the pizza box in one hand while he flipped open the covered keypad and punched in a security code. Aaron averted his eyes and fiddled with the bag of drinks he was carrying until he heard Chris pull the door open. Inside, Chris's discomfort reached palpable levels. He stopped at the base of the stairs and looked back at Aaron. "What?" Aaron asked. "Nothing. Just... it's not what you're used to." Aaron rolled his eyes. "Great. I already love it. Come on. I'm starving." He pushed Chris up the steps. The room wasn't what Aaron was used to. It wasnt airy with seven tall windows, but cramped and dark instead. Two twin beds vied for space with two desks and two dressers. Clutter ruled. Books, notebooks, pencils, clothing, shoes, and just about every shape, size, and color of coffee mug littered the room. Perfection. "Who's the coffee drinker?" Aaron asked as he set the drinks down. "Uh, that's me," Chris said as he tried to make a space on the bed. "Can't face the day without it." He threw the last of the clothes onto the floor. "Come on, I thought you were hungry." They spread the food out on the bed, picnic-style, but neither ate much. Chris seemed at a loss for words a phenomenon that made Aaron even more nervous. He picked at his food and cast about for something to say, but his mind seemed incapable of focusing on anything but Chris, sitting a foot away and looking equally uncomfortable. Finally, unable to stay still any longer, Aaron got up and crossed to the window. "Aaron."

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Aaron glanced over his shoulder. "What?" Chris stood abruptly, scattering his plate and a stack of napkins in the process. "Just" he held out his hand. "Come here." Aaron's heart pounded, pumping the blood through his body in such a rush that his ears rang. He turned, but before he'd taken one step, the door sprang open, flooding the room with light and loud voices. "Hey, Chris! Aaron! Come on, movie's starting." A crowd of boys passed, most shouting greetings to Chris on their way out of the building. Aaron stood paralyzed, bathed in a shaft of light from the hall. The shock of the sudden intrusion began to fade, making way for a disappointment so acute, he felt sick. Slowly, Chris lowered his hand. "Fuck," he said under his breath. Aaron agreed wholeheartedly. *** Fatigue crept over him, but Aaron knew he wouldn't sleep. His body thrummed with agitation, and all he wanted was to see Chris. Alone. The movie had been torture a hundred bodies packed so tightly together he couldn't so much as twitch without somebody noticing and afterward they'd been forced to say goodnight with at least ten of Chris's friends within hearing distance. Hot and uncomfortable, he drew a shaky breath and kicked at his blankets. Nothing helped. The burning was coming from inside of him. As he rolled over to bury his head under the pillow, a rock bounced off one of his windows. Aaron jumped and stared at the glass. A moment later, another pebble hit the pane. Grinning, Aaron cranked the window open and leaned out. Chris smiled when Aaron appeared. "Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair," he called out softly. "Very fucking funny." The smile blossomed into laughter. "This is too clich for words. Can you come down?" "Escape my tower, you mean?" Chris rolled his eyes.
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"Why don't you come up?" Aaron asked. "Really?" "Hang on." Aaron shut the window and crept down two sets of stairs to the kitchen door. Chris was waiting for him. "Very clandestine," he said as Aaron disengaged the alarm and pulled him through the door. "I approve, your highness." Aaron elbowed him in the ribs. "Shhh," he admonished. They reached the steps to his room, but when Chris reached for the switch to light the stairwell, Aaron stopped him. "No light," he whispered. Chris nodded. Aaron put a foot on the bottom step and stared up into the dark. Far above, he could just make out the shadow that was his bedroom door. He reached back, searching, and like a perfect choreographed dance, Chris's hand reached for his. They touched in the dark. Chris's fingers stroked his palm, slid over his wrist. Aaron's did the same, tracing calluses and folds of skin. "Aaron." Chris's rough voice echoed in the stairwell. "Yeah?" Chris stepped close, reached for him, and for a moment, before he remembered he was standing on the step, Aaron was disoriented at being the taller one for once. "Aaron," Chris said again, closer this time. So close. When his lips brushed over the same skin, Aaron turned to meet them. Chris pressed forward, and the brief touch became much more. His lips slid against Aaron's, moved to his chin, his jaw, then back to cover his mouth. Aaron opened to meet him. He stayed on his feet despite the roaring in his ears, despite the shake in his knees until Chris opened his mouthand swiped his tongue tentatively against Aaron's lips. "Oh!" Aaron sagged forward as his legs lost the fight to keep him upright. He grabbed for Chris, shocked to find his skin so cool. Blessedly cool when everything that was Aaron was burning and throbbing with heat.

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Chris caught him and spun him around. "Upstairs," he rasped, now openly kissing the back of Aaron's neck. "Hurry." They nearly fell twice, and the trip took three times as long as it should've, but they refused to let go of each other. Together, they stumbled over the threshold, and as Aaron kicked the door shut, Chris grabbed him under the arms and pushed him against it. Aaron melted into him. Blindly, he grabbed handfuls of Chris's t-shirt, searching for bare skin, and, after long agonizing seconds of pulling and tugging, he was running his hands over Chris's back finding it just as smooth and cool andexciting as he remembered. Chris was everywhere, stealing Aaron's breath with his lips and his hands and the sounds he was moaning into Aaron's mouth. They rutted together, Aaron pinned against the door, kissing feasting until Aaron's heart was pounding so hard it hurt. Chris pushed his head back, bit his neck. Aaron shuddered and bucked his hips and quite suddenly he was alone, panting and gasping. "Chris?" Bleary-eyed, he squinted into the gloom. "Christ! Christ, Aaron." Aaron held out a hand, struggled to find his voice. "Come back." Chris's heavy breathing drifted across the room. "In a minute. Just give me a minute." Aaron shook his head. "No." Passivity be damned. He walked toward the sound of Chris's voice, sure-footed, and a moment later his fingers were brushing the soft cotton of his t-shirt. Aaron stroked down, across Chris's chest and stomach, before he shoved him down onto the bed. He followed, covering Chris's body like a blanket. "Aaron, no. I... I'm-" "Socloseplease," Aaron finished for him in a whisper. "Please." He rolled his hips forward. Chris's arms wrapped around him. "Okay, okay." "I don't want to stop. I'm afraid" "It's okay." Chris reached up to cup his neck. "I'm shit-scared, too." Aaron slid his legs apart until he was straddling Chris, then thrust, biting back the shout of pure pleasure just in time. "Oh," he whimpered, burying his face against Chris's throat. "Oh, oh, oh."
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Burning heat. Pressure. The presence of something Chris, Chris, Chris hard against him. Aaron groaned and clutched at Chris's shoulders, and Chris reciprocated by moving his hands lower over Aaron's back until they crept under the waistband of his shorts. The first time Chris's fingers tightened, squeezed, pressed him impossibly closer, Aaron lost himself. He'd barely recovered when Chris arched up almost throwing him off and cried out, ripping another moan from Aaron as he followed him over the edge. *** Aaron surfaced from his light doze and stretched. Chris's hand, which had been rhythmically stroking his hair, fell to his shoulder. "Awake?" he mumbled, not sounding too awake himself. "Mmmm," Aaron replied. According to the clock on his nightstand, he hadn't been asleep long. He shifted and something wet and cold brushed his leg. Making a face, he reached for the damp t-shirt stuck to his thigh and tossed it to the floor. It landed neatly on top of the first set of sheets they'd gone through, which were piled on top of the clothes they'd been wearing earlier. "Glad I'm not doing your laundry," Chris mumbled. Aaron snorted. "I'll deal with it tomorrow." "It is tomorrow." "I meant later. When the sun comes up." He yawned and stretched again. "Much later." Chris's fingers returned to his hair, idly fingering loose strands. He pressed a kiss to Aaron's temple. "I should go." "If you want." "I don't want," Chris said against his forehead. Aaron threw a leg over Chris's lap and edged closer. He joined their hands under the blankets. "How long have you been there? At the RSY?" he asked, voice soft. Chris didn't answer right away. He squeezed Aaron's hand. "How long have you been a princess?" Aaron laughed softly. "Forever, I guess." "And now you've even got the castle to prove it."

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Running Far Afield

Libby Drew

In the dark, Aaron smiled. He squeezed back. Figuring he'd crossed the line, he didn't ask again. To his surprise, Chris answered him a few minutes later, continuing as though there'd been no lapse in conversation at all. "Since I was thirteen," he said. He cleared his throat. "I... uh... I stole some things. Shoplifted. Then stopped going to school. My foster parents at the time didn't seem to care, but the school did. When they tried to make me go back, I ran away. The cops found me eventually, of course. Because of the shoplifting, they put me here." He sighed. "The state pays for all of it. Part of their 'no one left behind' program or something stupid." "It doesn't sound stupid to me. It sounds like it could be a great opportunity." "Yeah, I guess," Chris whispered. There was a long pause. "And I get to play ball." Aaron waited. Chris rolled toward him, tangling their legs together. "It's a great opportunity. I just get tired of having everyone tell me how easily it could all go away." He shrugged awkwardly. "I know that's a pretty shitty attitude. The thing is" he swallowed reflexively, "for all their talk of getting rehabilitated, they're sure quick to point the finger when something bad happens." Aaron frowned. "You guys get blamed for lots of stuff?" "Just about every crime in Ridgton." "That doesn't seem very fair to you." Chris turned to look him in the eye. Their faces were inches apart. He started to say something, stopped, then leaned forward to rest his forehead against Aaron's. "Yeah," he said. And that ended the conversation. Aaron fell asleep, tangled in a set of spare sheets, tucked against Chris's side, fingers tracing patterns on his back. *** In his dream, he floated on a gently rolling sea. "What the- Aaron!" Aaron's eyes shot open, adrenaline coursing through his system. Face to face with Chris, he didn't at first register what'd woken him. Chris breathed slow and deep, eyes closed and arms tight around Aaron. Morning sunlight bathed his face in a warm glow. He was asleep. A chill blossomed in Aaron's chest and began to spread.

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Running Far Afield

Libby Drew

"Aaron!" His father's voice thundered from somewhere close. Very, very close. Beside him, Chris jerked and his eyes fluttered. He brought a hand up to stroke Aaron's face. "Aaron?" he asked, voice sleep-rough. "Get up! Get up! Both of you! Now!" Chris sat up, blinking sleepily, still disoriented. Aaron sat up next to him. "Dad," he said, "Just wait." Beside him, Chris stiffened. He swiveled around to look where Aaron's father hovered in the doorway. "Dad, please," Aaron continued. Unthinking, he put a hand on Chris's leg. His father's eyes widened and he sputtered. He pointed a finger a Chris. "You have five minutes! Five! To get out of my house! Do I make myself clear?" Chris, though pale, didn't even twitch at the threat. "Yes, sir." Aaron detangled himself from the sheet and started to stand. "Dad-" His father backed away. "Get some fucking clothes on!" He spun and left. Chris scooted to the edge of the bed and lowered his head into his hands. "Fuck," he whispered. "Fuck, fuck, fuck." Aaron really had nothing to add. In a daze, he retrieved clean shorts and a t-shirt. He sat down next to Chris and handed them over. "Here. They should fit. They're big on me." "I should have left." Chris took the clothes but made no move to put them on. Aaron shook his head. He lowered his head onto Chris's shoulder. "Im glad you didn't." He hoped Chris understood he'd never been good with words. After a long moment, Chris turned and pulled him into his arms. So unfair, Aaron thought. Why did everything have to be so hard and so unfair? Chris let him go and slipped the borrowed t-shirt over his head. Aaron stood to find his own clothes, and they dressed together in silence. *** No one waited at the bottom of his steps. Aaron turned left and led Chris down the rear staircase. The kitchen was also empty, and they both breathed a quiet sigh of relief.
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Running Far Afield

Libby Drew

Chris looked sick to his stomach. Aaron imagined he looked the same. They didn't speak until Aaron had unlatched and opened the French doors leading to the backyard. Chris cupped Aaron's face in his palm. "You gonna be all right?" "I'll manage. You?" Chris side-stepped the question. "You know where I am if you need anything." Aaron hadn't planned to touch, but his hands crept to Chris's waist. "Thanks." Even after everything, his body reacted to having Chris so close. His fingers tightened, and he stepped closer. "Aaron," Chris whispered. He leaned in. "I said five minutes!" His father yelled. They jumped apart, and Aaron instinctively stepped between Chris and his dad. He ignored Chris's sound of protest as well as the hand you're not alone on his arm. "Fine," he said, tone firm. "He's going." His father glared at them a second longer. "I'll be waiting upstairs." But he didn't move. After a moment, Chris squeezed Aaron's arm, then turned and slipped out the door. "Upstairs," his dad repeated. *** The pile of soiled sheets and clothes were the first thing Aaron saw when he entered his bedroom. His dad, directly behind him, screwed his face up in disgust. "What were you thinking, Aaron?" Aaron felt the stirrings of anger. He took a deep breath and squared his shoulders. "What happened to you trusting my judgment?" His dad growled, an angry, frustrated sound, and dropped into Aaron's desk chair. Flushed and tense, he pointed to the bed. "Sit down." Aaron did, tentatively. His dad stared at him, his gaze everything that Chris's wasn't. A vein throbbed at his temple. "Aaron," he said. He leaned forward suddenly, and Aaron flinched. "Aaron." Aaron opened his mouth, the words, "I'm sorry," on his lips, but they didn't come. He said instead, "Get on with it."
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Running Far Afield

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"Don't take that tone with me." "What's your problem?" He wanted the words back immediately, knowing his dad wouldn't hesitate to say his piece. His father rolled the chair forward until they were knee to knee. "We're going to talk about this. And all I'm asking is that you hear me out. Without interrupting." He searched Aaron's eyes. "Can I trust you?" Aaron swallowed hard. "I won't interrupt." "Good." His dad took a deep breath. The chair squeaked as he shifted, his eyes on the wall behind Aaron's head. "I'm not dismissing your feelings. But I want to know what happened here. Did that boy start this this?" "No." "Did he encourage it?" Aaron flushed with anger. "What do you mean? Did he " It's okay. I'm shit-scared, too " force me? Is that what you're asking?" "No! I yes. Maybe." He winced. Pinched the bridge of his nose. "You aren't exactly assertive by nature. I have every right to be concerned." Aaron shook his head and pressed his palms over his eyes. "No. It was he didn't." Through his parted fingers, he saw his father cringe. Deflate. Aaron eased his hands down until they were once again in his lap. He watched and waited. His father regained his equilibrium in short order. "I don't want to see him again." "Fine." "I dont want you to see him again." "No!" Aaron shot to his feet. His father rolled backward in his chair. "Don't test me, Aaron!" "We didn't do anything wrong." His father's anger flared. He stood and kicked the chair out of the way. Aaron cringed as it hit the wall with a bang. "You don't know what you're talking about," he yelled. "You have no idea what you're doing."
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Running Far Afield

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Aaron watched the chair tip sideways and thunk to the rug. "I'm not going to stop seeing him," he said calmly. His father shook his head. "I don't know who you are. I don't even know you anymore." "I know." "That breaks my heart, Aaron." Aaron sank onto his bed. "Well you know what they say. The truth hurts." *** He was officially a prisoner. Forbidden to leave the house until he agreed "to see sense." At least his cell had windows. He supposed there could be worse places to spend eternity. He'd spent the day resenting his father and missing Chris. Sometime during the afternoon, feeling sick to his stomach, he'd fallen asleep. But he woke up hungry. The kitchen was dark and empty, although it was only eight o'clock. Rummaging through the fridge turned up leftovers from dinner and a half-gallon of iced tea. He snorted when he unwrapped the remnants of a roast. His mother only went to the trouble of a roast when she was upset. Apparently, he was batting a thousand in that department. He'd gathered everything up to take to his room when his father's voice boomed through the kitchen. "Sneaking out?" Aaron squinted at his father's shadow in the doorway. With the light behind him, his expression was hidden. It hardly mattered. His words conveyed his mood quite clearly. "Sneaking out?" Aaron echoed. Anger kicked his voice into gear before his mind had a chance to censure the words. "I'll go if I want to. I don't need to sneak anywhere." "I told you, you're not leaving this house until you've come to your senses!" "God! You don't get it, do you?" Aaron yelled. He dropped his armload of food onto the counter, barely noticing when the plate shattered on the shiny granite. "Youare the one who has to come to his senses. I'm not" he cast about for the right words, "I'm not changing my mind about this. Ever."

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Running Far Afield

Libby Drew

"No!" His father strode into the kitchen. They faced off over the island, Aaron's ruined meal between them. "I don't believe that. Everything-" "-is negotiable," Aaron finished for him. His anger drained away. He shook his head. "Not this, Dad." His father stalked around the counter, shaking with anger. "This is that boy's fault." He shook a finger at Aaron. "This is because of him." In a way, that was true. But not in the sense his father imagined. Aaron shook his head. "No, it's not." "I dont want you seeing him again." "I don't care what you want." The blow to his cheek was the last thing he expected. Bone-deep shock numbed most of the pain, but the coppery taste of blood on his tongue made Aaron gasp. Shaking, he touched his lip and winced. His face began to throb. "Oh God. Oh God, Aaron. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry." His father reached for him, but Aaron ducked out of the way. "Aaron, please!" His father chased him around the counter, but Aaron was faster. He threw open the back door and dashed out into the yard, leaving his castle, his tower, and his family behind. *** He wasn't sure how long he stood at the entrance to Chris's building, staring at the key pad, before someone found him. He'd been cold at first; running off wearing nothing but a t-shirt, sweat pants, and sneakers probably hadn't been the smartest course of action. But now, a long time later, he didn't notice the cold. In fact, he felt nothing at all. Eventually, someone did come along. Someone who recognized him. He'd been lucky on that count at least. "Oh hey, Aaron. What are you doing here? Hey what's wrong?" "Jeff, is Chris in his room?" Aaron kept his face averted as he spoke.

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Running Far Afield

Libby Drew

Jeff laid a hand on his shoulder. "I don't know," he said carefully. "He should be." He reached around Aaron and punched in the code. "Come on." He kept his hand on Aaron as he led him inside. "Thanks," Aaron whispered. Jeff led him upstairs and knocked on Chris's door. "What?" Chris yelled from inside, voice clipped and annoyed. "Hey Chris!" Jeff darted a glance at Aaron. "Open the door, man." He was expecting it, but the door being yanked open still made Aaron jump. Jeff steadied him. "What the-" Chris's words died on his lips when he saw Aaron. He took him in with one glance: the damp clothes, Jeff's hand on his arm, and the trail of dried blood along his lip. "Come here," he said, voice rough. Jeff let him go, and Aaron stumbled over the threshold. He heard Chris thank Jeff and shut the door, and suddenly the shivering was back, violent and bone-jarring, and he didn't understand it. He wasn't even cold. "Come here," Chris turned Aaron round and ran a thumb over his swollen cheek and lip. His eyes turned flinty cold. "Fucking bastard," he growled. "It's okay." "It's not fucking okay." "Whatever." Aaron buried his face in Chris's neck. "You're soaked." Chris pushed Aaron away and stripped off his damp t-shirt. Then he bent and grabbed something off the floor. "Here." Aaron looked down at the dry and fluffy sweatshirt. He tried to grab it, but his hands wouldn't cooperate. After a moment, Chris took over, guiding it over his head. "Put your arms through," he said quietly, and Aaron found the strength to obey. He waited until Chris had smoothed it down over his back and stomach before burrowing back into his embrace. "You feel good," he murmured. Chris sighed and held him tight. "It'll be all right." "I don't think so. But I don't care."

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Running Far Afield

Libby Drew

In fact, the only thing he cared about at the moment was burying all the bad somewhere deep and dark where it wouldn't interfere. He tilted his head, and rubbed his lips against Chris's throat. Chris's arms tightened. "Wait." Aaron snorted against his neck. "Bit of a mixed signal," he said. His tongue darted out, lapping at salty skin, and Chris groaned. "Wait, Aaron. This isn't the answer." But as before, his body spoke a different language. His hands drifted over Aaron's back. Foolish words for a foolish time. Because Aaron was beginning to believe that this was, in fact, the answer. To everything. He worked one of his hands between them, and when Chris made one last feeble attempt to wriggle away, he pressed his mouth to his ear and begged to be touched. "You know how," he whispered, and the battle was won. When the knock sounded on the door, Chris had Aaron bent back over his desk, pants barely clinging to his hips and sweatshirt pushed up to his chest. He tore their lips apart. "What?" he shouted, sounding flustered. Jeff's voice echoed through the wood. "Chris, Dickson called the house phone. He wants you over at the office. Now." Chris moved slowly upright. Aaron followed. "Why?" he shouted back. "I don't know. But he said to bring Aaron with you." Chris cursed. "Jeff, you idiot. I can't believe you said anything." "Fuck you! I didn't." There was a long pause. "He already knew he was here." Aaron dropped his forehead onto Chris's chest. "My father."

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Running Far Afield

Libby Drew

*** Chris campaigned for Aaron to stay behind, but since it would only prolong the inevitable, he insisted on going. They followed a winding path through the academic quad before reaching the Administration building. Out front, his father's car was pulled haphazardly across two handicapped parking spaces, headlights blazing. "Where are the police when you need them?" Chris mumbled as they passed the twin pools of light. He pushed the door open and Aaron followed him in. Angry, raised voices drifted to them from down the hall. Chris edged forward, hugging the wall, and Aaron followed. When they'd crept a bit closer, Aaron realized that only one voice was raised in anger his father's. The other Mr. Dickson's remained calm and even. "I want charges pressed against him." "For what?" Mr. Dickson answered. "For for what he did." "You'll have to be a bit more specific." Mr. Dickson's voice took on an edge. "I caught them in bed. Together. Is that specific enough for you?" Aaron knew exactly how his father would look then. Eyes narrowed into small slits, face and neck flushed, finger pointed straight out at his target. Mr. Dickson sounded unaffected by the display. "Are you telling me that Chris forced himself on Aaron?" he asked calmly. "Listen, you need to-" "No! Now you will listen," Mr. Dickson thundered. Both Aaron and Chris jumped in surprise. "I asked you a question. Are you accusing Chris of forcing himself sexually on Aaron?" Aaron heard his father sputtering, and he couldn't hold back a small satisfied smile. The man wasn't accustomed to being challenged. "I'm saying it's possible." Mr. Dickson burst out laughing. "By God, it's hard to believe you fathered that child." His laugh turned bitter. "Lucky for Aaron, I've never seen an ounce of the cruel stupidity in him that you've demonstrated tonight." "How dare-"

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Running Far Afield

Libby Drew

"No. How dare you?" This last was once again delivered in a calm, even tone. Aaron heard a creak and the squeak of chair wheels. "Sit down, Mr. Kendrick." "I prefer to stand, " Aaron's dad growled. "Suit yourself." Mr. Dickson paused. Aaron heard him sigh. "Unlike you, I've had the opportunity these past weeks to observe Aaron and Chris together." Aaron's father sputtered some more. "Just what are you implying?" "That I've seen, quite clearly, sir, what you are refusing to, even though you'd have to be blind to deny it at this point. I'm saying that this attraction is mutual, and I will also add that I'm positive beyond a shadow of a doubt that any sexual contact between Aaron and Chris is completely consensual." "You don't know my son." "Neither do you, apparently." Chris shot a smile over his shoulder, but Aaron barely noticed. His head spun with everything he was hearing. Something anger resentment resolve ignited in his heart. It was barely a spark, but Aaron recognized its potential. Blindly, he reached forward and grasped Chris's hand. Aaron's father started to speak, but Mr. Dickson cut him off again. "I'm not finished. Now, while I don't necessarily sympathize with your point of view, I do understand your concerns. But let me be very clear on this point: you will deal with them appropriately. I won't let you hang Chris out to dry because you're looking to punish someone. He's worked too hard and come too far these past few years, and I won't have his opportunities stripped away by the likes of you." A tension-filled silence descended. Aaron held his breath and tightened his grip on Chris's fingers. After several seconds, during which Aaron imagined Mr. Dickson and his father staring daggers at one another, his father spoke. "I'll deal with my son how I see fit. Just keep your boys in their cages where they belong." Chris stiffened and Aaron gasped. The spark in his chest flared. No one talked about Chris like that. "Bastard," he muttered, glowering at the open doorway. A chair scraped across the floor and then Mr. Dickson was leaning around the doorframe, his expression blank. "Come in, boys." Aaron's jaw ached from being clenched so tightly. He tried to rally his more rational emotions, but only rage responded to his call. Chris took a deep breath and stepped forward, but when he

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Running Far Afield

Libby Drew

tried to untangle their fingers, Aaron held tight. He met Chris's surprised expression with his own shuttered look and gestured to the door. "Let's go," he said. They entered hand-in-hand. "Oh, for God's sake," Aaron's father mumbled when he saw them. Glaring, Chris positioned himself between Aaron and his dad. Mr. Dickson's reaction was quite different. He came back around the desk and took a close look at Aaron's face. "Is this how you normally deal with your son, Mr. Kendrick?" he asked in a chilly voice. Aaron's father snorted. "You have no right to judge me." Mr. Dickson's face split into an unpleasant smile. "I think you'll find that I have every right to do just that. You might say, in fact, that it's my responsibility." Aaron knew the moment his father grasped the repercussions of his one small, violent act earlier in the evening, because he cleared his throat and pasted a contrite expression on his face. Aaron wasn't fooled. In fact, he found the abrupt turnaround disturbing. "I've never hit him before," his dad said, voice gruff. Mr. Dickson turned to Aaron. "That's true," Aaron admitted. "And I'd like to take him home now, if I may." "No way!" Chris yelled. He stepped in front of Aaron. "Chris," Mr. Dickson said. "No. You can't let him." Chris scowled at Aaron's father. "The decision lies with Aaron." Mr. Dickson cast him a meaningful glance. Aaron glanced from one to the other. From Mr. Dickson, to Chris, to his father. Gingerly, he moved his jaw back and forth. Ran his tongue over his split lip. "I'll go," he said. Though he took great pleasure in pulling Chris into a deep kiss before he did, erasing his father's satisfied smirk quite effectively.

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Running Far Afield

Libby Drew

*** The car ride, all eight minutes of it, was silent. Aaron hadn't expected anything different. More than likely, his father was planning his next move. Which was fine. So was he. They turned onto the driveway and the headlights swept over the house. His tower rose majestically off the left wing. Tastefully lit from the inside, it did impress. For a moment, Aaron forgot how easily it could become his jail. Then a flash of movement caught his eye, and he saw his mother through one of the living room windows. Perched on the sofa, magazine in her lap, she barely glanced at the car before going back to her reading. A prisoner of her own making. It wasn't going to happen to him. His father put the car in park and turned off the engine. "I think," he began, "we should discuss this whole situation as two adults." Aaron bit back a smile; that his father hadn't choked on the irony of his statement was a miracle. "Sure," he said. He turned to face him. Met his eyes. "I'll start." His father arched a brow. "Okay." "This is how I think things will work best," Aaron said. "You're going to stay out of my personal life. All the way out. You won't tell me where I can go or who I can see. And you'll leave me and Chris alone." At some point during his speech, his father's mouth had fallen open. Before he could pull himself together to reply, Aaron continued. "In return, I'll join the team at the Academy in the Spring. I'll keep my grades at straight A's. I'll come to church with you every Sunday, and next September, I'll apply to the colleges you want me to." His father gave a clipped, humorless laugh. "You think that's how things are going to work, do you?" "I'll also make sure never to let it slip that you hit your son because he was a lazy, little faggot." His father's mouth clicked shut with an audible snap. "Because," Aaron continued, "I'm fairly sure something like that would leave a very bad impression." Stunned silence filled the car. Aaron watched as his dad worked it all out in his head, then swiped a hand across his mouth. "You think that matters to me?" Sadly, yes, he did. He let his silence answer for him.
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Running Far Afield

Libby Drew

His father turned and stared out the window for a long time before speaking. "You'll play in the Spring," he ground out eventually. "And keep perfect grades." Aaron nodded. "Fine. I agree." "Success," Aaron said, "is all about negotiation." He climbed out of the car. That was the end of his forty-second day in Ridgton. He stopped counting after that.

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Running Far Afield

Libby Drew

Epilogue
Aaron ducked through the door of the locker room, leaving the roar of the stadium behind him. He returned a few waves as he made his way to the back. "Hey," he said when he saw Chris. "You nervous?" Chris stretched his arms over his head and grinned before relaxing back onto the bench. "'Course not." Aaron snorted. "So that whole emotional scene in the hotel room this morning - with you crying on my shoulder that was all for show." Chris leaned forward. "Those were cries of ecstasy. You're very good at what you do," he whispered. Aaron punched him on the arm. Chris returned the favor before sitting back. "I'm fine. I'm ready." Aaron lowered himself onto the bench. "You guys will kick their butts." They stared at each other for a minute. "Thanks for coming," Chris said. "I know it wasn't easy." Aaron laughed. "No, traveling halfway across the state to watch my boyfriend play baseball wasn't exactly how my father wanted me spending the weekend." "Especially when it cuts into your team's time." Aaron shrugged. "Doesn't matter. I wasn't going to miss this. He'll get over it." They both burst out laughing. "I doubt that," Chris said as he gathered his gloves and cap. A commotion near the door drew their attention. Mr. Dickson stood in front of the team, hands raised. Everyone quieted. "Well, boys?" he called, proud smile in place. "Are you ready to show these people who the real winners are?" The answering cheer was deafening. "Let's go then!" he yelled. There was last minute scrambling for equipment, and then the room began to empty. In silent agreement, Chris and Aaron held back until they were alone. When the door swung shut behind the last person, Chris pulled him behind a row of lockers and kissed him. "It's a shame to waste an empty room-"
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Running Far Afield

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"With a shower, even," Aaron murmured. "But I've got to go win this state championship thing." Aaron pushed him away with a laugh. "Too bad it's not an ego contest. We could all go home right now." "Yeah." Chris smiled and headed for the door. He turned back before he walked through into the corridor. "See ya soon." Aaron nodded. "I'll be here." *** His seat, purchased last minute, was high in the stadium. Too far away to see the expression on Chris's face when he made the double play in the fourth inning, and far too distant to be able to hear his laughter when he rounded the bases on his home run in the seventh. None of that mattered. He was exactly where he wanted to be, and it was perfect. He felt untouchable.

~ Fin ~

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