Chapter 3

Tom could sing out in happiness, the joy he felt in his heart. All the confusion from his first day of school, all the new subjects he would be covering in school, all the annoyance of his younger brothers, all gone.

He was online.

Yes, while his parents may be super religious freaks (especially his dad) they certainly respected the importance of not only an Internet connection, but also Satellite TV, as they had gotten that back online whilst he was at school as well. And now Tom could surf to his hearts content, just like he used to. Tom was definitely an Internet freak, spending most of his time either roaming around various WWW sites, working with media (downloading songs through Peer to peer and watching streaming video) or playing online with other crazed freaks.

Right now though he was doing what he usually did in his spare time and that was just roaming around looking at nothing in particular. He had three Internet Explorer windows open, each one a completely different topic. He also had his media player on jamming through his techno and trance playlist, which he was listening to via the large headphones of his headset with removable microphone. The microphone was currently flipped up against the side of his head, out of way until later needed.

As he was looking about, bobbing his head to the insanely fast beat of one song he particularly liked, the phone rang. No big deal, his parents would or his brothers would answer it and he'd continue surfing. Life would go on.

"THOMAS! Phone's for you!" His mother called.

Or not.

Sighing, Tom flipped the microphone of his headset down and pressed a button his black phone that was lying next to his computer. He had wired his phone to his soundcard which meant that not only did he avoid having to switch headsets while using it, but that he didn't have to go through a telephone software. This meant that he didn't have to minimize out of a game to answer the phone, and also there wasn't any CPU drain by the software. Just push the button and start talking…

"Hello?"

"Hey, Tom?" It was Jack.

"Jack? How'd you get my number?" Tom asked in surprise.

There was a period of silence, and then, "Uh, it's called the white pages."

Oh.

"Yeah, people actually use them over here. Anyway, listen me and the guys plus Koreen are meeting up at the plaza as we usually do, and we were wondering if you wanted to come with us?"

Tom stared at his telephone in shock. Had he heard the wolf right? Did he actually want Tom to hang out with him? On the first day of meeting him?

"Uh, well, I don't know. I mean, I don't really know the guys all that well, I only just met them."

"Well, duh. That's why'd you hang with us, to get to know us. It'll be fun, it always is. It's impossible not to have fun when Adams there."

In his mind, Tom screamed at himself to say, "Yes! I'll be there right away!" Never mind the fact that he didn't know exactly how to get to the plaza, as he'd only been there once with his family. Never mind that Adam totally freaked him out. Never mind that Josh was kinda creepy.

But Tom rarely listened to his mind, and this was no exception. What if it's all a joke? What if they just want to laugh at me?

Did Jack seem like the kind of fur who would do that? No, not really. But still, the fear of rejection held him back.

"You know what, not tonight. I've got stuff to do."

"Like what? No offense Tom, but you told me yourself today in Math. You barely do anything but sit in front of your computer. That may have been fine where you used to live, but out here where there's a million other things you could be doing, you just can't do it."

Tom sighed. He just wanted to say, "Yes." He could arrange to meet Tom somewhere he did know and go to the plaza together… they had bonded so well earlier, it would have been great. But it was all easier said then done.

"I dunno, maybe another time."

Jack sighed on the other end. "Well, see ya later."

"Yeah." And the leopard hit the disconnect button, and sighed.

Why, why, why, WHY did I refuse?? WHY???

With a clenched fist, Tom pounded the side of his desk.

About fifteen minutes later, there was a knock on the door. Tom waited a few seconds, and when no one entered he knew it wasn't Andrew. "Come in."

The door opened slightly, and his mother poked her head in. Her face was similar to Tom's in that it had no spots above her neck, and she too had dirty blond hair only she wore it much longer than he did, hanging just below her shoulders.

"Thomas? There's someone here to see you."

Tom raised an eyebrow. "Oh? Who is it?"

The door opened fully now, and there, standing in his hallway, was Jack. Wearing the same clothes he had worn at school. Tom's eyes widened to the point of nearly bursting from his scull in surprise, but he managed to gain control over himself. "Uh, thanks mom."

Nicole Taddran smiled, and walked back towards the stairs. Soon as she was gone, Tom leapt from his chair and grabbed a surprised Jack by the scruff of his shirt, shoving him into Tom's room. Then the leopard closed the door, and spun around to look at Jack in panic.

"Are the others here?"

Jack looked at Tom, confused. "The others? No, they're meeting us at the plaza."

Tom closed his eyes and breathed a sight of relief, slumping back against the door. "Phew! My parents would totally freak if they saw Adam. They're really religious, and very anti gay."

"Really?" asked Jack, who gotten over Tom's panicked reaction and was making his way towards the cushioned area. He looked around. "Nice set up you got here. May I?" he indicated the beanbags on the floor.

"Wha? Oh, sure."

The wolf sat himself down gingerly among the sea of fabric. "Hmm, very comfy." He said as Tom sat down in his office chair and wheeled it to the edge of the pile.

"So, why are you here?"

Jack looked up at Tom and grinned. "To take you to the plaza, of course!"

"But… I thought…"

Jack grin widened. "You don't think I'd let get away with that answer you gave me on the phone, did you?"

Now Tom grinned back. "Well, I don't know really. But you know, this could be considered stalking."

"Are you going to report me?"

Tom smiled. "No. Fine, I'll go with you to the plaza."

Jack got up and his grin broke into a complete smile. "It's not like you had a choice! Come on, you gotta bike?"

"No, rollerblades." Tom replied, making his way to his closet.

"Cool. You can hang onto me and I'll pull you."

Tom grabbed his blades, and made is way upstairs, followed by Jack.

"Mom, I'm going out with some friends."

"Friends?" Asked Andrew in mock surprise. Then he dramatically put his paw to his forehead and pretended to faint from his chair at the kitchen table where he was sitting doing nothing, apparently. He hit the floor with a realistic thud a just lay there. Jack looked at the small leopard, then at.

Tom shrugged. "He's always being stupid like that."

"He should join our drama class."

"Yeah, he's all about the drama."

Then Nicole came into the kitchen and asked Tom when he'd be back, to which Tom replied, probably later in the evening.

"Don't worry, Mrs. Taddran." Jack said, smiling. "I'll take good care of your son. I know this area of the city inside out."

"Oh?" Asked Nicole. "And who are you?"

"Jack, a friend of Toms from school."

"Well, its nice to meet you, Jack. Tom, here's $10 for supper. You got your cell phone?"

"Yes mom," Tom mumbled, patting a pocket on his pant leg with his empty right paw, his rollerblades tucked under his left arm.

"All right, I'll call you if I think you're staying out too late. See you later, Tom."

"Bye mom!" Tom called out as he exited through the front door.

"Good bye, Mrs. Taddran!" Jack called back.

A few minutes later, Tom had his blades on and the two furs were making there way along the streets, Jack on his 21 speed green mountain bike, and Tom coasting alongside him, his paws on Jack's shoulders. As they went along, Jack nodded towards various building of interest, and told Tom that on Saturday they would take him on a more in depth tour so that he could get his bearings.

"I should take you to my place," Jack said. "Its only a few streets away."

"I'd like that," Tom answered.

They slowed as they reached the plaza parking lot, and Tom could see the others sitting around the base of a large statue of a Lion turned green by oxidization. The lion was holding a large book in his left arms, and a hanging kerosene lantern in his right paw, which was outstretched.

Tom let go of Jack's shoulders and drifted away from the biker. He came to a complete stop just in front of the concrete steps leading up to the marble base of the statue. Josh was lounging against the base, his legs outstretched. A 12 speed black bicycle on its side next to him. He was reading from the same book that he had been reading from earlier that day at lunch. Koreen was also reading the same book she had been at lunch, but she was a few steps down from Jack and had a set of headphones on. She was wearing rollerblades.

Mark was there, sitting a few feet from Koreen, a red and black skateboard lying over turned behind him. And Adam was sitting in the rabbit's lap, his head resting against the rabbit's chest. The cat was also wearing rollerblades. As Tom started stepping up the concrete slabs, he could see that Mark was running one paw through Adams hair, and his other over the cat's chest. Adam seemed to be enjoying the treatment, as a very soft, barely audible purr was emanating from his chest.

And suddenly, Tom found himself wishing he was in Adam's position, with someone affectionately looking after him, playing fondly with his hair and hugging him closer. But it wasn't Mark that Tom saw himself with, it was…

It was…

He couldn't tell who it was. Odd.

"Hey everyone," Jack greeted the others. "So, what are we doing tonight?"

Koreen put closed her book and pocketed placed it in her backpack that was lying on the ground, then she placed her headphones around her neck. "Well, why don't we just cruise the plaza?"

Jack shrugged. "Sure, sounds good to me."

The group spent a few minutes arranging their items. Jack and Josh went to lock up their bikes while Koreen, Adam and Tom pulled their rollerblades off.

"I'm glad you came, Tom." Koreen told him as she stuffed her blades into her backpack. "We usually do stuff like this all the time, and you should come. We always have a blast."

"Uh-huh," Tom replied nervously, pulling a set of straps from his own backpack and strapping his blades to his right hip via his belt loop.

They entered the plaza from the other side, away from the grocery store, and Tom discovered that the other end of the building was a Wal-Mart retail store. They cruised through the hallways and Koreen mentioned that she needed a new shirt.

"No, you don't. They just happen to be on sale," Jack pointed out, pointing towards the large "30% off!" posters along the walls.

Koreen giggled. "Of course!" She grabbed a pink shirt at random from one of the racks and held it over her chest. It was a normal short, one that reached down past her belt unlike the one she was wearing at the moment. "What do you think?"

"Uhm, well I… I guess it looks nice," Jack stuttered.

From behind Tom, Adam let out an exasperated sigh and practically spat, "WHAT-EVER!" He marched up to Koreen and snatched the shirt out of her paws, tossing it casually back on to the rack. "Koreen dear, you just don't look good in those 'all things covered' clothes!" He poked Koreen's bare belly for emphasis.

Mark giggled along with Koreen, and suggested, "Perhaps our Koreen should just wear fishnet?"

More giggles, except from Jack, who seemed to be blushing although Tom couldn't quite tell.

"No, seriously Koreen. You need something much more than these, generic T-shirts." The way Adam pronounced "generic" lead Tom to believe that he considered it offensive. "Lets go see what else they have?"

Jack shook his head at that idea. "No way, I'm not going to wander around the women's clothing department! No way- ACK!"

Tom stared wide-eyed as Koreen grabbed Jack's shirt and started to drag him further into the department. "Oh grow up, Jack!"

Mark started following the group, and Tom looked at Josh, a confused expression painted across his face. Josh shrugged and the two moved after the others.

For the next half an hour, Mark, Jack, Josh and Tom sat against a shelf and watched as Adam chose various different shirts for Koreen, and trying on at least half of them himself. As Koreen came out of the changing room, they would applaud and add their own comments, usually along the lines of,

"Sure,"

"Nah,"

"Kinda, but perhaps in a different color,"

"Pretty good" and

"OH GOD! TAKE THE DAMN THING OFF!"

Tom watched as Koreen came out wearing a red tank top that was a slightly darker shade than her fur, and contained much less orange. It stopped a few inches above her navel and just hung there. The shirt itself was completely devoid of the usually witty phrases that most shirts girls these days wore. In fact, all of the shirts Koreen had been given didn't have anything written on them at all. Anyway, Tom told Koreen that he thought the shirt suited her, but only because he could tell that Adam approved. Honestly, he had no idea whether the shirt suited her at all, whether she would look better in something else – or nothing, for that matter.

Hmmm… The image hit him: Koreen wearing no shirt whatsoever, her bare breasts hanging limply without the support of a bra. It wasn't hard to imagine, Tom had seen plenty of naked furs in his yiffy magazines, and yet he found that the image didn't really appeal to him. In fact, it started to dissolve from his mind completely and was replaced by… Jack?

Yes, there it was. Jack the wolf, Jack the tall, Jack his only real friend standing there wearing nothing but pants. No shirt at all, his white chest completely open to the air, his chest muscles clearly visible beneath his luxuriously thick soft fur coat. The dark brown fur of the rest of his body seemed to mix along the edges with the while like droplets of a river upon the sandy shore. And as he watched, the wolf's chest expanded and contracted slowly with his breathing.

"Tom?"

In his head, the mentally conjured shirtless Jack grinned, as he scratched the back of his head. He looked so wise just then, like he had been to the end of time and back, and had brought back all the answers with him. Experience lay within his smile, along with reassurance that Tom longed so much for right now.

"Tom?"

And in his mind, Tom saw Jack come towards him, his legs in massive strides. He reached towards Tom, his wise and reassuring grin still pasted across his muzzle, and cupped his small chin in the Wolf's massive paws and…

"TOM!"

Disappeared. Completely faded like a puff of smoke into the air, replaced by the eyes of everyone else in the group, staring at him.

"What?" he asked stupidly.

"Dude, you like totally went into a trance or something…" Jack said, a hint of worry in his voice. Worry? No one had ever felt worried for Tom before, unless you count his parents worrying that he was spending too much time in his room… no, that didn't count. Because they weren't really generally concerned about him, just his social habits. And Tom liked the sound in Jack's voice.

"I… I did?"

"Yeah," Josh added. "Your eyes were like half closed, and you seemed to be staring at… nothing, really."

The others nodded, and Tom felt very embarrassed. Very embarrassed.

"Are you Ok," Jack asked. He was standing, but bent over next to Tom.

Tom looked up into Jack's face, and grinned sheepishly. "Yeah. I'm great. Just, deep in thought, that's all."

Jack didn't seem convinced, but he stood up and didn't press the matter any further. There was an uneasy silence, but that was soon broken by Koreen.

"I'm going to pay for these, and then we should get something to eat."

"Yeah, I'm starving," Adam complained. "Where're we eating?"

"How about that Szechwan place down the road?" Mark suggested.

Adam giggled, had took hold of Mark's paw in his own. "You spoke my mind, dear."

Tom saw the rabbit squeeze the cat's paw, smiling. "I know."

Tom sighed. He remembered the feeling he got when he saw the two furs half an hour together. He wanted to be in a relationship like that too, except this time the unseen partner was replaced by…

"Jack?"

"Sure, Mark. Szechwan sounds good."

"Alright," Koreen said. "Meet you there."

Plastic fork in hand, Tom pushed around his pieces of ginger beef that had been heaped on top a foundation of Chinese noodles, along with dry garlic ribs and chicken balls. But he didn't feel like eating, unlike the others who seemed to be inhaling their food. He sighed despairingly. Who knew that being so confused could completely remove you're appetite? Sighing again, he speared a small piece of beef and forced it down, washing away the spicy taste with Pepsi.

Just what the hell was wrong with him? The day had started off so… so normal. And now… now he couldn't even eat, for the strange images floating through his mind.

He looked up to see Jack on the other side of the table shove a pile of Chinese noodles in his mouth, and drink his own carbonated cola. "This is probably one of the best restaurants in all of Toronto," He told Tom.

"Hm-mm" Tom mumbled to himself in agreement, picking up a piece of ribs and pulling some of the meat off. Jack smiled.

"Funny how those things always seem to have more meat on them then they actually do, eh?"

Tom smiled slightly at that. "Huh. Yeah, it is kinda."

Jack leaned over the table. "Penny for your thoughts."

Why don't I just tell him? Tom thought to himself. Why?

Because you don't even know yourself. It would be like, "By the way Jack, I think I like you, but I'm not sure. In fact, I'm not sure I even like guys at all really. Truth is, I used to think I was asexual…"

"Uhm…" in embarrassment, Tom turned away to look to his side, feeling like he couldn't look Jack in the eye for fear that he might break down and cry in his confusion and inner turmoil. And his eyes came to rest on Adam and Mark, who were sitting at opposite ends of the table next to them. Mark was stroking Adam's paw loving while forking pieces of pork.

Sighing, Tom replied. "I was thinking how lucky Mark and Adam are."

It was the truth.

Kinda.

"Yeah, they've been through a lot together. Especially Mark."

Still watching the couple, Tom replied, "Oh?"

"Yeah. See, Mark's an excellent basketball player, but when he signed up for the team, the team didn't see a player. They saw a fag."

"Ouch."

"Yeah. The coach, well he's completely tolerant. Our Phys-Ed teacher, actually. You'll meet him tomorrow. He doesn't care whether you're straight or gay or whatever. So when he watched Mark, all he saw was excellent team material. A model Basketball player. An outstanding addition. So he signed him on."

"Well, that's not so bad."

"No, it wasn't. It was great of him. Except, the first day Mark showed up for practice, the lead player was pulled out."

"By who?"

"His father."

Tom spun his head around to look at Jack. "What? Why? Because of Mark?"

Jack nodded gravely. "He came onto the court and said that he wasn't going to allow his son to play on the team where the coach allowed faggots to come and rape his children in the locker room."

Tom's eyebrows shot straight up like a helicopter, and his eyes dilated a good several inches. "NO!"

Jack nodded again.

"But… he's an adult…"

"Only by age, Tom. In terms of maturation, he's just like those jerks in the cafeteria this morning."

"So what happened?"

"The coach got pissed. Told the kid's father that he had no right to make that kind of judgment about anybody, and especially not one of his team members. The father simply told the coach that if he was going to run a queer basketball team, that was fine with him. But he could do it without his son becoming involved. And they just left. Next day, the other lead player also quit. Apparently his parents fully supported him as well.

"Poor Mark. He was devastated. Completely devastated. Only Adam's support kept him from going over the edge… the players blamed him for causing their team to fall apart. Blamed him for all the comments they got from the other schools, calling them a queer team and all that. He never got the chance at first to display his abilities; they made sure he never got the ball.

"It got worse. If the referees even thought Mark did something out of line, they blew the whistle. But only the most noticeable of fouls against Mark where ever called. The other team soon realized that they could get away with just short of murder as far as Mark was concerned. And of the course the other players didn't blame the referees, they blamed Mark."

Tom shook his head. "He should have pressed charges."

"Believe me Tom, he wanted to. But Mark's family is poor. They could never afford the court fees, let alone the lawyers. They supported Mark, and tried to help him. They talked to the school board who said they were doing all they could. But other than that, Mark had no choice but to just take it, or quit the team."

"So, what happened?"

"Mark got a runaway ball, and won the team's first game. The team all called it fluke, but the next game one of the guys, name's Johnny or JJ, ended up completely covered and Mark was the only one open. He listened to his common sense instead of the prejudiced propaganda and passed Mark the ball. Mark scored one of the most amazing baskets ever, it was unbelievable.

"After that, Mark just kept them winning. Last year, they won the tournament. That was first for our school for several years. The team was doing better with Mark then they were when they had the two dropouts. Which, I can tell you, made those two pretty pissed off. And after a while, the team just accepted Mark for who he is. They know that he isn't out to rape them up the tail in the locker room or grope them while they're playing, and now everything's cool. As long as he keeps Adam away from them."

"Heh!" Tom smirked and turned to look back at Mark. He was just finishing his meal and was smiling contently into Adam's eyes. Had he gotten over the whole incident? Tom couldn't tell.

And suddenly, he felt warm fur against his left paw. His head spun around on instinct, and he saw that Jack had placed his paw over Tom's, and was rubbing it gently with his thumb. "You gonna finish that?"

Tom was so stunned, he didn't answer. He only looked at Jack. For a moment, everything seemed to stop, time stood still and there was no one else around. Just him and Jack, and Jack was rubbing his paw.

"Hello?"

"Huh? Oh, almost finished."

Hurriedly, Tom shoveled a few mouthfuls of beef and noodles into his mouth, finished off one of his chicken balls and shoved the rest aside.

"I'm good."

Jack snickered slightly, but didn't say anything. He withdrew his paw from Tom's, and placed them both behind his head, reclining in his seat.

"Well, I guess that's all for tonight. See you all tomorrow," he told the group.

As they all got up, there were murmurs of parting as they began to separate and go their separate ways. Outside, Tom began to do up his rollerblades, when he felt a paw on his shoulder. He froze instantly, and stiffened up. Slowly, he turned his head and saw Jack looking down at him.

"Scare you?" he asked.

"Course not!"

Jack removed his paw from Tom's shoulder, much to Tom's regret, and smirked. "Liar. Listen, I thought I'd go with you, same way we got here, you know? Me pulling you on my bike and all? Like I said, my place is along the way to yours, and you probably don't know you're way anyhow."

Tom grinned. "Nope, I don't."

Jack grinned back.

Sighing again to himself, Tom tossed his rollerblades aside, and climbed the small ladder to his bed. He had already said good night to his parents, his siblings were already in their rooms, and Tom just wanted to lie down and… think about the day.

Did he love Jack? Was he gay? Would Jack love him? All these questions swam about in his mind, a never-ending whirlpool of images, thoughts and confusion. Was it all right to be in love with another guy? His parents had taught him that, no, it wasn't. It was sin, punishable by eternal damnation to hell. That's what the Bible said. But did he believe the Bible? No, and he didn't believe in God, or Jesus or anything like that.

So what was his decision? What did he believe? What would he do?

Exhausted from all the mental uproar, Tom drifted to sleep within minutes. And as he slept, images of Jack swam about the murky waters of his dreams, punctured here and there by the bullies he had seen earlier in the cafeteria, his brother ridiculing him and calling him a fagot, his parents in tears that they had a such an ungodly son and that the only thing they could do was to disown him forever and the worst of them all, a sullen face of the great Christ himself, staring down at Tom with blood red eyes glowing like the embers from the fire, staring down at Tom from his place high upon the mighty Cross, damning Tom to a life of pain and suffering in the fiery pits of hell forever.