Although Jake primarily agreed to participate in this project because it was an almost certain guarantee for acceptance into a prestigious law school, he soon realized that engaging in such time consuming research could become too much of a burden. He was still enrolled in his other classes, as was Celina, but they had been granted independent study by the head of the political science department.

He hadn't wanted to take a literature course, considering he already fulfilled his English and composition requirements as a freshman, but now he was stuck reading and analyzing post modern texts on a sunny Saturday morning—not his idea of a good time. Moreover, Celina left the motel room early to run a few errands, promising to return by the end of the day. Already he was bored because they were nearly finished interviewing the participants in this one horse town.

Statistically speaking, residents of rural areas were much more obliged to agree to fill out their survey and answer a few questions than their big city counterparts. He supposed it made sense considering the state of the economy. Professor Gaither's research grant certainly helped to keep this project afloat. Of course, underclassmen wishing to take advantage of "easy A" independent study certainly sweetened the deal. He and Celina were responsible for the incidentals, but their supplies, room and board, and postage was provided thanks to a generous per diem.

Now that Celina was gone, he suddenly felt antsy. Being bored to tears writing a ten page analytical essay on nihilistic and moral essentialism in Cormac McCarthy's The Road would make anyone ready to stop working.Being in this room was too distracting anyway. Every little thing reminded him of Celina's presence. Her unique scent of cinnamon permeated the air, and her work space was littered with drafts of their latest thesis chapter, with handwritten annotations cluttering the desk.

Staring at page seven of his essay, and feeling as if he was going nowhere, Jake yearned to get away. He needed something to distract him, something to take his mind off of work and most importantly Celina. Although he nearly convinced himself that he should resign himself to never having her love again, Jake wasn't a quitter, and he wasn't going to give up on Celina. She moved him in too many unspeakable ways that as a man, he could not fully express.

He was glad that they were friends again, but he could still sense awkwardness in their personal and professional relationship. He knew that Celina still held some sort of residual feelings for him. She may even feel the same way because when he playfully pulled her against him two nights ago when they took in a movie, he could feel her shudder and sigh. He wanted to think that her sigh was one of contentment and not frustration.

He hadn't meant to rub her shoulders so possessively, but with the theater full of other men, Jake felt compelled to demonstrate just exactly to whom the young woman belonged. Maybe that was his problem…treating Celina as if she were a possession.

But that wasn't true anymore and hadn't been for some time. Celina wasn't his girlfriend, she wasn't his fiancée, and she wasn't his wife. It was horrible, being so close to the one you loved and knowing that they didn't feel the same way about you. He knew that Celina was attracted to him, but did she still love him? Truthfully he had never stopped loving her, but he had been too hurt by what had transpired between them to be honest with himself or with her.

It was so easy to place the blame at Celina's feet back then. Their families wanted a common enemy, and Celina, reeling with guilt, readily fell into that role. He should have manned up then and there and told both of their families to shove it. Instead he lashed out at her, his family, at nearly everyone.

Why had he failed to protect her? Why had he failed in the one area that he vowed to be successful? Sipping his coffee, Jake frowned, wishing that he could go back in time and take back every hurtful thing that he had said and done. He knew that they couldn't continue like this for much longer. Their fractious friendship was doomed to fail unless they forgave each other. Complete and total absolution was needed if they were to ever move forward not only as friends, but as people who have healed from the traumatic experience of losing a beloved son.

Leaning back in his chair, Jake stared wistfully at the picture of his son on laptop desktop screen.

"What the hell am I doing? Sitting in dim light while drinking stale coffee never solved problems for anybody."

Nathan's giggling, russet colored face illuminated the screen's display. Everyone thought that using his deceased son's baby picture as a background image was a bit unhealthy but Jake didn't care. He found the picture to be soothing and it reminded him every day of the son that he loved and lost.

He told Celina that moving forward was important and Nathan would want them both to be happy. Yet how could he forgive himself for failing as a father? There was so much that he wanted to teach and share with his little boy. So many promises were unfulfilled, so many dreams went unrealized.

Before he could ruminate further on his failings as a young father, Jake's cell phone interrupted his dark thoughts. Glancing at the number, he grimaced when he realized that he was supposed to call Melinda to break up with her. They hadn't spoken in nearly two weeks and he knew that she would pitch a bitch fit if he kept her waiting any longer.


He willed his voice to remain calm and steady.

"Well, look who finally decided to answer his fucking phone! Why have you been avoiding me Jake? I sent you a bunch of emails, text messages, phone calls… you promised to call me every day of your little trip."

Jake yanked the phone away from his head, grimacing as the sounds of Melinda's screeching reverberated through his eardrums. Oh well, he might as well get this over with already. Dealing with a woman like Melinda required patience, finesse, and a large bottle of Wild Turkey. Right now he was having difficulty mustering the first two things.

"I'm sorry that I haven't called you back, but I've been really busy with this project. Also, I never said that I would call you every day. I said that I would call as often as time allowed. I have a pretty hectic schedule now and we cannot afford to waste time with idle chit chat."

Melinda sucked her teeth angrily, and Jake could sense that he had once again said the wrong thing to the Irish redhead.

"Is that what you think of me, Jake? Am I an idle plaything that you can discard now that you've caught jungle fever?! What about me Jake? What about us?"

Jake rolled his eyes as he listened to her theatrics. Melinda could be such a selfish drama queen sometimes, but he did owe it to her to be honest about his feelings and make a clean break.

"I do not have jungle fever Melinda. I told you that Celina and I go way back since we were kids. I already said that I wouldn't tell you why we didn't get along in the first place. The point is that I don't think that this relationship is going to work."

"I know that you don't think that you are breaking up with me over the phone like this Jake! You must have lost your damn mind to think that you can drop me, a sexy, green eyed, natural redhead for a chubby, nappy headed, bossy little bitch!"

She screeched. Jake clenched his fists, fighting the urge to say something ungentlemanly. It was one thing when she attacked him, that he could understand, but to attack Celina was another story all together.

"Now you listen to me you little stuck up, skeeze. I do not want to be with you. We were just fucking, and to be honest, I have had much better! I do not appreciate you going around lying to everyone saying that I am going to propose to you, when you know damn well that it ain't happening."

He said breathlessly, forcing all of the tension and anger that he felt as of late into his caustic and angry words. Obviously finesse was wasted on a person like Melinda. He was out of patience, and she certainly didn't deserve the "it's not you, it's me" speech.

"I would never want to marry you because you are selfish, self centered, greedy, and whiny little bitch who never works for anything. You expect everything to fall into your lap. Well guess what buttercup? I'm not fucking with you ever again! You disgust me!"

Jake angrily bit out. He wished that she had called the motel's landline phone just so he could have the pleasure of slamming phone back into its cradle. Melinda was a very vengeful person and he had no doubt in his mind that she would probably spread vicious lies about himself and Celina, if she hadn't already begun.

He pressed the red icon on his cell phone, effectively ending the call. If Melinda called back he would just ignore her because she wasn't worth the hassle. Besides, Celina could call at any minute and he was determined to avail himself to her.

Restoring Celina's faith in him would take time, and he needed to show that he loved her through both actions and words. After everything that transpired between them over the years, she had no reason to trust him, but deep down he knew that the girl that he fell in love with was waiting to come out.

No matter what anyone says, a person never forgets their first love. Celina was special, different, and amazing. He desperately wanted things to work out for them. There were so many hurdles for the both of them to overcome, but he knew that they could do it together.

He wanted to rebuild and revert back to the type of relationship that they had when they both trusted each other implicitly. Back then, they were both so innocent about the world. Naively they believed that nothing and no one could touch them as long as they were together.

Eventually, they were forced to overcome their naiveté and realize that sometimes love is not enough. One of the worst things about their situation was that Jake regretted was the fact that Celina had no idea of the lengths that he would go through, that he had gone through to remain in her life.

Before he could dwell on the painful memories further, his phone rang again. He briefly wondered if he should ignore the call. It was probably Melinda, threatening to sully his good name, or worse yet to tarnish Celina's reputation. What she failed to realize is that no one gave a good goddamn what anyone else did at UGA.

High school drama was long since over, but for people like Melinda Banes who thrived on conflict and negativity, spreading rumors was her forte. She was certainly in her element now and she wasn't going to let their breakup get in the way of making him unhappy.

Jake reached for his phone, placing the caller on speakerphone while he tried to refocus on his coursework.

"Hello, who is this?"

"Hey, baby bro. It's me Brian."

A brief smile ghosted upon Jake's face as he thought of his older brother. Brian was probably somewhere at Red Sox game, relaxing on a weekend with some hot number or one of his guy friends. Still, it was nice that he would take the time to talk with him.

"What's up?"

Jake asked, scanning his postmodernist textbook for more information. If he worked fast enough, maybe he could finish this annoying assignment by five o'clock. Perhaps he and Celina could go out. Then again, there was absolutely nothing to do in such a small and dull town. Romancing Celina was going to be hard enough, but he needed to be able to take her some place nice.

"I just wanted to check up on you and Celina. You sound busy. Are you working? I can call back if you are preoccupied."

Jake shook his head no, and then remembered that he placed his older brother on speakerphone.

"No, you're fine. I can catch up with you and get this work done. Things with Celina and I have improved. We had a bit of a breakthrough a few nights ago."

Brian sucked his teeth, obviously skeptical of his brother's words. Jake and Celina went together like water and oil, but the prospect of those two making peace with each other was intriguing.

"Did said breakthrough involve violence?"

Jake stopped paraphrasing a quote, and took his eyes off the computer screen. He snatched the phone placing it to his ear, and taking his brother off speakerphone.

"Brian, don't be ridiculous! I have never in my life hit Celina!"

Brian chuckled, and Jake knew that his brother was just trying to get a rise out of him. He could hear the din of a raucous crowd in the background.

"If you only called to accuse me of domestic violence you can hang up now."

"Hey man, I am just kidding. Actually, I was talking about if Celina hit you. I just want to know how you both are doing. With the anniversary coming up and the two of you spending nearly every waking hour together in close quarters, I couldn't help but be concerned."

"I know man. I can't stop thinking about her, or Nathan. I told her that I still loved her and she didn't take the news as well as I had hoped." Jake sighed softly.

Brian hummed softly. He quickly cursed the Braves, wishing that every player on the team would fall ill. Jake rolled his eyes at his brother's behavior. Sometimes Brian took his fan devotion a bit too far.

"Wait, you said what?! What did you think was going to happen when you told Celina that you are still in love with her? God Jake, you need to think sometimes."

Frustrated, Jake leaned back vigorously rubbing his temples. Perhaps his confession was a little surprising but he meant what he had said! He refused to take it back. He loved Celina, had been in love with her for years, and he wasn't going to hide that fact any longer.

"I was just telling her the truth. Celina is the one, Brian. I have been in love with her since I was twelve years old! I just need to make her remember that she feels the same way about me. If that kiss was any indic—"

"Whoa, whoa, slow down baby bro! You mean to tell me that you two kissed? Did she kiss you or did you kiss her? Give me all the details, and don't spare the dirty stuff!"

Jake laughed, visually his brother's suggestive grin. Brian always was a fan of juicy details.

"Actually the last time we kissed, she kissed me. It was more like a friendly kiss though…"

"Jake, when a woman kisses you more than once, of her own volition, with tongue, it means something. Hold up. Aren't you seeing that smoking hot redhead, Belinda?"

Jake frowned at the mention of his former annoying lover. Every time Brian mentioned Melinda it was always in reference to her looks. In fact, many people did the same thing whenever he discussed Melinda. Her attitude didn't endear her to many people and he was wondering what it was that he had seen in the young woman.

"Actually, her name is Melinda and we just broke up a few minutes ago. She didn't take it well."

Brian chuckled, and Jake could tell by the sound of his brother's voice that he was in for a lecture.

"Of course she didn't take it well Jake. Of the two times that I met her, even I could tell that she was looking to get her claws into you. She might as well have had the word 'gold digger' stamped across her forehead."

"That's funny, considering the fact that our family doesn't have much. I mean your career has just started to take off and Rhonda's married to that veterinarian. Brian, what riches could I possibly have to give to Melinda?"

"Use your noggin, man. Anyone who knows you can see that you are going places. She probably wants to hook herself to you now, before you get rich and famous. Then, once you are rolling in the dough, she'll divorce you and take half of your money."

He didn't like the idea of being married to Melinda to begin with, but he also didn't doubt that she wouldn't try something like that with whatever man she managed to fool into marrying her. Jake could only imagine himself spending his life with one woman, and she was currently out at the moment.

"You can rest assured that I won't marry Melinda Banes. I've purchased one engagement ring in my life and we both know how that turned out…"

The brothers were quiet for a moment, lost in memories of their past.

"Listen, I don't mean to bring up painful events from the past. I just called because I am worried about you. You don't talk to us much anymore. Rhonda and I miss you. Even Gram and Granddaddy are concerned about you, especially since the anniversary is almost here."

He noticed that Brian purposely omitted naming their parents. They probably didn't care one way or the other and he knew that they still harbored anger towards Celina, but especially him. It wasn't as if he committed some grave sin by falling in love with a beautiful, witty, kind black girl. He couldn't help but fall prey to her charms, and he always resented the fact that his parents try to demean his feelings. So what if the Thompson's were wealthy, so what if they were black?

How could his parents call what Celina and he shared puppy love, when back then they shared everything with each other. Before she became pregnant, there were no secrets, just numerous truths between two awkward teenagers. He didn't care if Celina was black, white, purple, or green. He loved every inch of her and this time he would do right by the mother of his child. He would fight for her, for them, for the life that they could and would build together.

"Jake? Jake, are you still there?"

He could hear the sound of his brother's voice calling him back from his thoughtful reverie, which quickly pulled him away from his painful reflection. He cleared his throat, breathing deeply as he gained his composure.

"Yeah, I'm here. Listen, um, I have to finish an assignment. I promise that I will call you and Rhonda. I'll even call Gram and Granddaddy, and I will see you in two weeks, okay?"

"Are you sure that you're going to be all right? Do you need me to talk to Celina?"

"Yes, Brian for the last time I am going to be okay. Do not speak to Celina about this conversation! I know that the two of you got along quite well, but this is between me and the woman I love. This time things are going to be different, it'll work out."

Jake could hear the skepticism in Brian's voice, but he wasn't going to overanalyze things. He wasn't going to give Celina up without a fight. He was ready to take the big leap with her, and he had the ring to prove it.

He knew that hidden deep in his parent's house, in his old room, under the floorboard, underneath his bed was a weathered tin box, and in that box contained a peridot and sapphire engagement ring that he bought for Celina years ago. Perhaps this time around, he would be able to give it to her and she would finally say yes.

March 2002

Jake ran out of his family home, quickly hopping inside of his beat up pickup truck, desperate to get away from the constant sound of his parents arguing. Half of a six pack was in his rucksack and the remains of Brian's half smoked joint. There were just enough remnants to get him lifted, and he desperately needed to get lifted, to get away. He thought about stopping by Celina's house, but he didn't want to bother her with his problems right now. The only thing that he wanted to do at the moment was get away from his parents' house.

Aside from Celina, there was really no one that he was close enough with to talk about his family woes. His brother Brian was already a freshman in college, and his sister Rhonda was engaged to be married. They had long since escaped the nightmare of living in the Collier household. For the past three years, his parents did nothing but argue—about everything under the sun—including his decision to date Celina, his sister's choice in a mate, to Brian's unwillingness to visit home more often. He didn't see anything wrong with his siblings' desire to break free from such a destructive household.

He didn't want to think about the bad things right now. He turned on the radio, barely listening to an old Johnny Cash song that played in the background. Jake drove aimlessly, with no real destination in mind. Finally, after fifteen more minutes of driving, he settled on a very quiet, but suitable place of rest. He needed time to get his mind together, time to relax, and unwind. That meant lighting up a joint, drinking a beer, and maybe sleeping under the stars for the night.

Strangely enough, there was no moon tonight, and the only things that he could see were the lights from his truck shining on the forest. Nevertheless, he truly cherished these moments of quiet reflection, when he was able to be away from all of the negative factors in his life. Jake pulled into the forest clearing, quickly parking his truck. The sun had set several hours ago, but being the son of an avid woodsman, Jake was sure to always carry a survival pack in his vehicle at all times.

Kicking the strewn empty beer cans away, he pulled a blanket out of the back seat and spread it on the ground beneath him. He leaned against the still warm grill of his car, and began to light up the joint. As the THC began to relax him, he felt much better than before.

Out here in the wilds of North Georgia, no one could judge him. No one could give him flack for being poor and white. No one gave two shits about whom he loved or where he lived. The great outdoors was a peaceful escape from the pressures of his family life, of friends, of school, and even Celina.

A brief smile covered his face as he thought about the girl he loved. He wanted to call her, to make sure that she was okay. However, ever since their encounter at the mall with Drew she had become increasingly withdrawn. He knew that she was keeping something from him. The truth would come out as it always did, but he would rather hear the score from her rather than hear it from a secondary source.

He couldn't really understand why she wanted to leave Georgia and move back to Chicago. Did she really hate the Southern lifestyle, or was it the people? They never really talked about the implications of being black and wealthy in a small, mostly white, conservative, Christian town. Maybe he was being naïve, but what did it matter what other people thought of the Thompson's?

Hell, his mother was a secretary and his father was a foreman at the GM factory. They weren't the richest family in town, but they got by just fine. When Celina's father, a young, black, Midwesteern educated M.D. came to their little town, the usual gossip followed. Celina's mother was a CPA and he supposed that it was strange to see such a well-to-do black family living in area where there were very few African Americans. Still, Jake never thought of Celina's family as trying to keep up with the Jones'.

He exhaled from the joint expertly, watching as the smoke billowed. The cool night air made the goose bumps on his flesh rise. He briefly thought about heading home. No, that would be a bad idea right now. His parents were probably still in the middle of their argument, which was probably about money. Right now he just needed to chill.

Relaxing would be nice, but maybe chilling in the middle of the woods was not the best of places. Wild bears, snakes, and other woodland critters were probably lurking in the dark. He couldn't afford to get bit by a poisonous snake. He would never hear the end of it from his parents, and Celina would be upset with him.

Maybe he could go to Eagle's Landing for a night. The campgrounds there were clean and relatively safe. Plus, he had no desire whatsoever to return home this evening. A night away from home would probably do him some good. The drive over was quick and uneventful and as soon as he entered the grounds, he moved to the payphone to call home. Although his parents could probably care less about what he was doing and with whom, he knew he wouldn't hear the end of it if he didn't at least check in.

His mother answered the phone and she didn't sound too please to be woken up at 1:00am. At least it was a weekend. He wouldn't have to hurry home in the morning to make it to school on time.

"Jake, is that you boy?"

"Hey Mama, it's me. I just wanted to let you know that I am camping tonight and will return in the morning. Are you and Dad all right?"

His mother groaned, and Jake knew that he had struck a nerve.

"We're fine son. Be careful on the way back, and don't do anything stupid."

Before he had a chance to say goodbye, he heard the dial tone. She could have at least asked me if I was okay. He frowned, slamming the payphone, and heading back to his truck.

The fresh air and solitude would probably do him some good. He pulled out his blanket once more, laying it carefully on the truck's warm hood. Taking out his knapsack, he reached inside for his joint and lit up. Jake relaxed a bit and enjoyed the wonders of the great outdoors. He wished that Celina was with him, but she could be such a girly girl. Plus, the insects out here would tear her sensitive skin to shreds.

The natural sounds of the forest and the dull buzzing of a Coke vending machine were the only sounds that he heard for almost an hour. His joint was long since smoked, but his buzz remained. Suddenly, he heard the sound of motors revving, but he could see no cars in the distance. Perhaps this strain of weed was making him crazy. He didn't like to try the more potent varieties of cannabis.

He could still recall the time that Brian smoked a bad blunt and wound up butt naked dangling from the flag pole at the post office. Thankfully, he was the one to find his brother, before any of the townspeople saw how foolish he looked. The last thing he wanted or needed was a bad trip at the moment.

He closed his eyes, quietly sitting in his truck, drinking a lukewarm can of beer. The beer tasted flat and tasteless. He should have used a fake ID and bought a better brand than this LoBrau crap.

He must have fallen asleep because when he awoke it was still dark outside and he could hear a light tapping on the driver's side window. Jake yawned, stretching slightly, and moved closer to the window. A dark, masked face popped up out of nowhere, frightening him senseless.

The masked figure pulled off the ski mask, and Jake was staring face to face with Andrew Esposito, the know-it-all Italian. Andrew was with three other people of similar age, but they were guys that Jake didn't recognize. He didn't think that they went to Bainbridge High School.

He didn't want to know what the four of them were doing here, and frankly he didn't care, but he did remember that his classmate had given Celina a hard time. At the very least, he needed to teach this fucker a lesson. Though he did promise not to use violence, he also made a promise to himself to not let anyone talk shit about the girl that he loved.

He slipped on his hoodie, and felt around for the switchblade that he kept in a hidden pocket. At least if things got ugly he would have some means of self defense. He also kept an aluminum bat in the back seat, but he didn't know if he could take all four of these guys at once.

"Drew? What fuck are you and your 'homeboys' doing out here?"

Drew smirked, lighting a cigarette and turning off his motorbike. He grinned at his three buddies, and they followed his direction by turning off their bikes. The four of them sat on their bikes in a semi circle surrounding him.

"I could ask the same of you Jake. Me and my friends here are having a little late night fun. We just decided to stop here because we heard that this place is deserted in the middle of the night, and we need privacy for what we've got planned."

Jake eyed the other boy skeptically, making sure to lean with his back against his car. He didn't trust Drew after that karaoke incident, and especially not after the way he gave Celina the stink eye whenever the girl was in his general vicinity. There was something both charming and sinister about the New Yorker that Jake couldn't quite name. Whatever this hidden quality was, it was both endearing and repugnant.

"Yeah, I'm just chilling. I smoked a blunt, drank a few beers. I came out here to relax."

Drew scoffed, shaking his head at Jake's response. Whatever it was that the four of them were planning obviously didn't fit in with his rest and relaxation idea.

"You might want to leave then bro. Me and my boys here are target practicing and the last thing we need is a square motherfucker trying to ruin our fun!"

Drew sneered, turning to his friends as they all shared a laugh at Jake's expense.

"Hey, I was here first. I came out here to chill, so it's you fuckers who are cramping my style!"

Jake barked back, inching closer to Drew. Drew's three friends moved closer, ready to throw down in defense of their friend if necessary, but Drew's raised hand kept them at bay. He looked Jake up and down, sizing him up.

"You think you got what it takes to do what we're gonna do? You think you can handle it? This is some hardcore shit man."

Jake crossed his arms, clearly unimpressed by Drew's words. He moved his hand in a circular motion, a cue for the other boy to get to the point.

"Here's the deal. My uncle just bought a new gun. It's a .44 and the four of us are going to take turns on practicing on live targets."

Just how stupid were these four? They were going to practice shooting a gun, in the pitch black of night, on live targets? Not only did this scenario spell danger, it also signaled insanity.

"Are you fucking crazy? You can't go hunting in the middle of the fucking night! You'll end up killing someone, or worse each other! What the fuck is the matter with you?"

Jake yelled. He grabbed Drew by the lapels of his jacket and shook him repeatedly. Drew pushed Jake off of him, and he fell to the cold, hard gravel. Immediately Jake sprung back up.

"We aren't going hunting in the forest dipshit. We are practicing on live, stationary targets. The Miller farm is two miles from here. There's lots of acreage, meaning the cows there will be easy pickings. There ain't shit else to do in this town so we might as well make use of this gun. I've got plenty of rounds."

Jake shook his head in shock. He couldn't quite process what he had just heard from Drew. What kind of lunatic would kill defenseless animals for sport? Then again, was he even better? Every year during hunting season he went on deer hunts with his father and brother. Hunting could be considered a sport, right?

No. When he and his family hunted, they were contributing to population control. Too many deer encroaching on suburban and rural communities would pose a serious problem. They also adhered to the proper hunting laws, wore the right clothing, and carried the correct gear and equipment. They also ate the venison that they caught.

He highly doubted that Drew and his buddies were planning on eating the cows and bulls that they shot. Besides, Enos Miller owned those cows and what the boys were doing was clearly a crime.

"Miller has 'no trespassing' signs everywhere. If he finds any of you on his property, he will shoot first and ask questions later. Anyway, it's cruel to kill defenseless animals like that, especially when they are the property of someone else."

Jake admonished, hoping that his words sunk into the minds of these delinquents. Drew rolled his eyes, leaning against his bike with a look of boredom.

"Oh please, Collier. You are in no position to judge the four of us. You're the one who has been out drinking, and smoking weed. You're not any better than we are."

A red haired, dreadlocked guy sneered at Jake.

"Drew's right. You're even worse than us because you act like you are so much better when you are doing the same type of shit as we are."

Jake turned to his left to glare at a short, stocky boy with black hair. He didn't really care for the comments from the peanut gallery. Who the hell were these guys anyway?

"I don't go around planning to kill animals that belong to other people. What if you get caught? Miller doesn't miss when he aims that gun. What you guys are planning is dangerous and I don't think you should do it. Do you want to go to juvie?"

The four boys said nothing. Jake watched them silently as they mulled over his words. Sure, he was no saint, but he wasn't going around carrying guns to kill animals for target practice. His words were not sinking in with Drew, the red haired dreadlocked guy, or the snarky blonde boy. However, the other boy, probably the youngest of the bunch shifted nervously.

He wore a dark blue jacket underneath a grey hoodie. A worn hat barely hid scruffy brown hair. He shifted nervously on his bike as the weight of Jake's words sunk in.

"So you're gonna rat us out now? You sound just like that hot piece of ass that you call your girlfriend. You are so pussywhipped man. No, you're a fucking pussy, which is even worse."

Jake rushed Drew, pushing him to the ground. He punched Drew in the face, smirking as the smarmy Italian bled from the nose. Before he could get another lick in, the three boys pulled him off of their friend.

"You're the fucking pussy Drew! You need to hide behind these assholes because you are afraid to fight man to man. And don't you ever talk about my girlfriend like that again, or I'll whip your guido ass back to the Bronx!"

Drew wiped the blood off of his face with the back of his hand. Laughing mirthlessly, he glared at Jake coldly.

"I could take your country ass on any day of the week. Why don't you join us then if you can handle it? Lemme guess, your precious Celina won't allow you to talk to me, is that it?"

Jake didn't see the point in responding to this asshole any further. A part of him wanted to say to hell with the four of them, but if something went down, people would probably find out that he had been out here, drinking and smoking weed. He would have to watch these jerks and make sure that they didn't do anything stupid.

"Fine, suit yourself. I'm not going with you. Y'all are on your own. I'm not going down for none of you."

He said simply, getting in his truck. The buzz he felt from the beer and the weed was beginning to wear off. He took the two remaining beer cans and threw them in the trash bin. He wasn't going to get involved in their bullshit. The last thing that he needed was a juvenile record. He'd never hear the end of it if he shamed his family.

Still, he knew that if he left the others to their own devices, they would probably do something crazy. He revved up his truck and headed in the direction of his home, being careful not to spare any glances back at the others. He could turn around on Cato Lane and double back.

They were on motorbikes so they would probably cut through the Devereaux's cornfields. Miller's cattle were just on the opposite side of the cornfields and they would have perfect cover to shoot to their hearts content. Jake figured that he could pull the pickup near the entrance of the farm. He would have to get out and walk the rest of the way.

Despite the darkness and the surrounding vegetation, he could make out four figures up ahead. Miller's cattle were near the fence, some of them grazing and a couple of them slept on the grass. He could hear faint whispering and suddenly he heard the sound of a gun being taken off of the safety.

Three shots rang out in succession, and suddenly the cows and bulls were awake and groaning loudly. Jake raced over to the four boys, realizing that if they didn't get out of there soon, Devereaux and Miller would tell their parents, or even worse, shoot them.

"You fucking idiots! Did it ever occur to you that you would need a silencer, or that what you are doing is batshit insane?!"

Before he could express his rage any further, the sound of blaring alarms went off, and the sky lights that Devereaux installed over the cornfields lit up. Jake, Drew, and three other boys hung their heads low to the ground, quickly trying to escape without being seen. They heard the sound of a gun cocking, and the shuffling of feet.

"I don't know who you motherfuckers think you are shooting on my farm, but you messed with the wrong farmer!" Devereaux shouted.

The first shot whizzed by them several feet away. All of the boys began to crawl on their bellies, towards their bikes and Jake to his truck. They made it safely out of the cornfields, and despite the overhead lights, the large expanse of vegetables shielded them from Devereaux's eyes and his gun.

They quickly reached his truck, and Jake estimated that they had about ten minutes to exit the farm and hit the interstate before Devereaux reached them. He fumbled for his keys, being sure to stay low to the ground. He noticed that Drew and the other three boys hung back.

"What are you doing? Let's go! We have to hurry before he reaches us."

Jake whispered sliding into the driver's seat. Drew and the other boys exchanged a knowing glance, before running off in the opposite direction.

"Hey! Where are you three going? He will find you if you go that way!"

"Their bikes are parked in that direction. If this guy finds our bikes then he will know it was us who trespassed on his property and shot his cattle."

Drew said, moving out of the cornfield. Jake knew that if they would be caught because by now, Devereaux or one of his sons would have cut through the woods and found him by now.

"Where's your bike?"

Jake asked Drew, fumbling in his pockets for his keys.

"It's parked near the entrance. I wanted to be near the exits in case I needed to bolt."

Jake wasn't even going to respond to Drew's flawed thinking at the moment. The important thing was to get the five of them out of here, and in one piece. He could deal with Drew's stupidity and bravado later.

"Hop in. We'll grab your bike, but first we need to make sure that your friends haven't been caught."

Jake started up the pickup, and drove in the opposite direction of the exit, heading toward the three boys. He and Drew said nothing to each other, but the tension was palpable.

"There! I see them now." Drew said, pointing to them.

They were getting ready to go, but one of the motorbikes had a flat. Jake grabbed his keys, and rushed out.

"What are you two idiots doing? Go now, and in opposite directions. If he catches either of you, we're all screwed!"

Jake commanded, dragging the youngest boy's bike into his truck bed. Drew sat in the truck doing nothing but darting his eyes nervously. The other two, the dreadlocked kid, and the blonde, needed no further encouragement. They sped off quickly and within minutes, he couldn't spot the lights from their motorbikes.

"Hurry up man! My bike is near the exit and if they find it, we're toast!"

Jake ignored Drew, realizing that in stressful situations the guy was all talk and no action. What he needed to do was keep quiet so that Jake could get them all out of there in one piece. He quickly sped off down the road towards the exit.

Soon, they spotted Drew's bike and just as they were preparing to load the motorbike, a bullet whizzed by hitting the fence post five feet away.

"Quick, hurry up or we'll be shot!"

Jake yelled, throwing the bike unto the truck bed. He rushed into the driver seat, and Drew raced around the side. Just as he was getting in, another bullet flew by and hit Drew in the leg. He screamed in agony, and the quiet boy in the car, helped drag him inside. Jake revved the truck, and they flew out of Devereaux's farm, and were on the interstate in less than a minute.

"Oh shit man, what do we do, Drew's been shot!" The quiet boy yelled.

"What do you mean, what do we do? We're taking him to the hospital of course! He needs medical attention."

Jake flew down the highway, desperate to get to the Floyd County Medical Hospital as quickly as possible. He could hear Drew moaning and he was certain that there would be blood everywhere in his car. Shit! Why did he have to come and check up on these idiots? Drew could die from blood loss and for what? So they could say that they fired a .44?

"No, no, hospitals. I think the bullet just grazed me. Take me somewhere else."

Drew bit out in between bits of pain. Damn it, he was right. The hospital would ask why three minors were coming into the hospital for a gunshot wound in the middle of the night. Police would be called, their parents would be called.

"We need a phone! Do either of you have a cell phone?"

Jake said, as he got off the highway. He had no doubt in his mind that after calling the police, Devereaux or his sons may try to find them on the highway. Thankfully, he recognized the winding, dirt road he was on. This road led to the house that he had taken Celina to when he finally got his learner's permit. That house belonged to his Grandparents and was rarely used.

"I have a cell phone. My Dad got it for me for having good grades this semester."

The quiet boy stated, brandishing a small, sleek gadget.

"Great, let me use it. I think I know someone who can help."

They reached the old house quickly. The two uninjured boys helped Drew out of the truck, and Jake was grateful to know that there wasn't much blood on the floor of the vehicle. He searched around the door mats and underneath the potted plants until he found the key. They quickly got him settled on the floor, where he writhed in pain.

"What's your name, kid?"


"Brandon, I need you to go to the kitchen and fill one of the bowls with boiling hot water okay? When you finish filling up the bowl, bring some of the towels in one of the linen closets back to me."

He nodded, rushing off to complete his tasks. Jake looked down on the other boy, feeling his temperature. He didn't seem feverish, but then again, he was no medical expert. They needed help from someone with a more extensive medical background. He punched in a series of numbers and dialed Celina.


Even groggy with sleep, his girlfriend had a beautiful voice.

"Celina, it's me. I need your help right now."

"Oh God, are you okay? Are you hurt?"

He could hear the shuffle of drawers and he knew that Celina was getting dressed. She was home alone this weekend because her brother had an away game in Texas, and Lakeesha was already a senior in college.

"No, but someone else here is hurt and I can't take him to a hospital."

"What do you need me to do Jake?"

"Can you bring your father's medical equipment bag? My first aid is rudimentary, but I know that your father taught you and your siblings how to perform more advanced first aid."

"Indeed. Tell me, is this guy conscious? Is he breathing?"

Jake looked over at Drew, and noticed that his breathing was shallow and slightly labored. He was becoming paler by the minute. Brandon had returned with the water and Jake began to cut off a portion of Drew's pants leg. His injured leg was bleeding, but the bullet wasn't lodged very deeply.

"He's a gunshot victim, kid. He's got a slight fever, but he is conscious. His breathing is slightly labored. I'm trying to wipe off as much of the blood as possible, but we don't have the tools to remove the bullet from his leg. I need you here."

Celina raced into her parents' room and found her father's medical bag. She grabbed her car keys and started the car.

"It'll be okay baby. Just keep him flat, try to lower his fever with a cold compress wrapped in a towel. Where are you?"

"We're at my grandparent's old house."

"I'll be there in five minutes."

They hung up quickly. Jake knew that Celina lived at least fifteen minutes away and if she wanted to get here in five minutes, she would have to be speeding. He was worried for her safety, but at present, Drew required immediate attention.

Jake wiped Drew's leg down as best he could, using the towels to soak up most of his blood. For such a shallow wound, Drew was losing quite a bit of blood. Brandon kept his forehead cool, but he could tell that the younger boy was quite nervous.

"Hey, don't worry man. My girlfriend's coming and she is going to help us take care of him. Everything will be okay. Just keep his forehead cool."

Brandon nodded, offering Jake a weak smile. They heard the sound a car door slam, and footsteps racing up the door. Jake peeked out the window, and breathed a sigh of relief when he saw his frazzled girlfriend. He opened the door, and Celina immediately walked into his arms. She gave him a brief kiss, but not before quickly looking him over for any injuries. He took her hand and led her to the prone body of Andrew Esposito.

"Oh my goodness, what happened to him?"

"He was shot by a farmer. That's not important right now. Celina, can you help him?"

Celina leaned in to look at his wound closer. The bullet was small, but obviously it had been enough to cause Drew to be in this condition. She raced to the kitchen sink, washed her hands, and dried them as quickly as possible using a few paper towels. Reaching into her father's medical bag, she dug around for his box of latex medical gloves.

"Jake, I need you to bring me to flat pillows. You there, I need you to get a bucket or a bowl of scalding hot water. These instruments need to be thoroughly sterilized. If this bullet is not removed soon, Drew could get an infection, which could lead to gangrene, which in turn would lead to amputation!"

The boys ran off to fulfill her requests. Celina stole a glance at the boy who had been grating her nerves ever since his arrival. She wanted to know what it was that the young man had done to get shot in the leg, and why Jake was involved. Her first priority would have to be keeping him alive and healthy for now.

"You better be glad that I am good person mister. Not everyone helps the person who spreads vicious lies about them, or ceaselessly taunts them."

Drew slightly stirred at her words, but kept his eyes closed. His response signaled that he was receptive, though woozy, but immobile for now. Jake and Brandon, as the other boy was called, soon returned, and Celina quickly poured the hot water over the instruments, and into another bowl.

"Brandon, I need you to keep this bowl continuously full of scalding hot water okay? Jake, you will serve as my assistant. We need to remove this bullet immediately, and since this will be a painful process, you will have to hold Drew down so that he doesn't thrash about."

"We understand."

Celina put on a surgical mask, and eyed Jake. Her boyfriend reached over and held down Drew firmly. Celina reached for a pencil sized scalpel, and began to dig around the bullet that was lodged underneath Drew's skin. She could feel the small round being forced up and out.

After a few more minutes of prodding, she pushed the scalpel in slightly deeper to ensure the bullet's exit. Drew began to thrash about in pain, though his eyes remained closed. The bullet popped fairly easily out of Drew's leg, plopping into the bowl of hot water.

"Brandon, I need you to dig into that bag, and look for a bottle that says iodine. We'll use it disinfect his wounds. This should prevent any infections, but his leg will be sore for quite a while. His bandage will also need to be changed on a daily basis."

As Brandon frantically searched the bag for the necessary item, Jake and Celina shared a secret smile.

"You're amazing, you know that?"

He could tell that she was blushing underneath the mask because her eyes lit up.

"We aren't out of the woods yet Jake. Iodine is an antiseptic that will be excruciatingly painful when it is applied to the wound. It will however, kill any bacteria that may have been forming under his skin. See that green colored fluid there? That's pus. Pus forms quickly underneath injuries such as this so we need to act fast."

She took a piece of gauze and gently wiped away as much of the pus as possible. Without proper tubing, there was no way to suction all of the pus, but as long as Drew kept his wound clean, and applied a medicinal salve, the pus would naturally go away. Brandon handed her iodine, and before she opened it, she looked at the two boys.

"Brandon, you need to hold him down too. I think that this stuff is powerful enough to rouse him to full consciousness. Both of you need to be ready."

Celina gathered a roll of bandages from the bag, along with several squares of gauze. The medical tape was next to her, and she was grateful to be nearly finished. She soaked a few squares in iodine and pressed them against his skin. Immediately, Drew's eyes opened and he screamed in pain. His body was wet with sweat, and his eyes welled with tears as Celina tried her best to swiftly disinfect his wound.

"Please bear the pain for now. I am almost done."

She gave him a rare smile, the kind that her father would always give to the nervous or unruly children who needed to get shots. Once she was finished wiping, she blew on his calf, and placed several unused squares on top of his wound. His blood was clotting nicely. She wrapped the bandages around his legs with methodical precision. The medical tape held them in place, and she gestured for Jake and Brandon to gently move him to the couch.

"I'm not a medical doctor like my father, but I think you will be okay. Still, you need to see a real doctor as soon as possible. I tried my best to dig the bullet out, but it wouldn't hurt to have an X-ray just to be on the safe side. There could be small pieces of shrapnel still embedded in your leg."

"Thanks for saving me. You both saved my life tonight."

Drew said weakly. Celina didn't look him the eye, but instead returned to her father's medical bag, and pulled out a bottle of Ibuprofen. She went to the kitchen and washed a glass, filling it up with tap water. In her hand there were two pills inside of a napkin.

"You don't have any allergies to common Ibuprofen do you?"

He shook his head no, reaching for the glass. Celina held the cup away from him for a moment.

"What about a history of stomach bleeding?"

He shook his head. Satisfied with his answer, she finally acquiesced and gingerly handed him the medicine and the water. Drew gulped it down quickly enough, before reclining back on the sofa. No one said anything for a minute, but Celina watched the three boys as they exchanged secretive looks.

"All right that's it! I want to know what happened, and I want to know now Jake!"

Celina glared at her boyfriend angrily. She was brimming with happiness and was relieved to see that Jake was alive and unharmed. She was even happy that she had been able to help Drew. Yet she knew something was wrong here. Why was Jake with Drew and this Brandon kid in the middle of the night, in his Grandparents old home, treating Drew for gunshot wounds? Why were there motorbikes in the bed of Jake's truck?

Celina could tell from the nervous way Jake was behaving that he was keeping many things from her. It wasn't that he couldn't have secrets, but his secrets obviously involved guns and possible loss of life. She could see in her peripheral vision that Brandon was trying to sneak off.

"Where do you think you're going short stuff? You are obviously in on whatever little plan that was cooked up here. None of you are leaving until I get an explanation, so start talking!"

Jake felt his stomach sink as he witnessed the fury in Celina's eyes. It was apparent that he had disappointed her by managing to end up in such a situation. She sat on the sofa with arms and legs crossed, glaring at the three young men. Jake cleaned up the mess left from treating Drew while Brandon helped. He needed to take care of a few pressing issues for now. There was still a little blood in the floor of his truck that needed to be cleaned.

"Celina, I swear I will talk to you about this later. It's just that we have other things to deal with right now."

He tossed Brandon's cell phone back to the young boy.

"Brandon, call the other two guys to make sure that they made it home safely. I need to clean the blood out of my truck and move the motorbikes."

Celina watched silently as Brandon made a phone call. Drew had fallen asleep on the couch and was snoring lightly. She reached over and placed her hand against his forehead. His fever appeared to be breaking, but she was still concerned about the possibility of shrapnel in his leg. As Jake unloaded the motorbikes and Brandon made calls, she cleaned her father's instruments as best she could and placed everything back in the bag as her father had left them.

If he asked why something was amiss, she would say that she treated a friend who had been cut by barbed wire. She didn't like lying to her father, but she certainly couldn't tell him that she used his medical tools to help a boy who had been shot.

If her father heard about this, he would certainly ban her from seeing Jake ever again. Drew snored lightly in his sleep, shifting slightly. Celina propped his calf up on the pillows again. Her fingers gently traced his wound in a circular pattern. From an outsider's perspective, it appeared as if Celina was giving him a loving caress.

Although she really didn't like the Italian boy that much, she would be saddened if he had died. What exactly had he gotten himself into anyway? There was no doubt in her mind that being involved with Andrew Esposito spelled trouble of all sorts. He was dangerous, and although she had yet to hear the full story, something told her he would end up putting himself and those she cared about in similar situations again.