AUTHOR'S NOTE: Yeah, yeah, yeah! This is LATE! We all know I'm dealing with … timing issues. I'm working on it! In the meantime, I'm updating as much as I can. Bear with me and also check out the Zerca series I have going with jma on our joint author account, boyz2Men-yaoi-writers. We've updated and added a new story with another to come soon.

Please drop me a review on the way out, though. They help me gauge my muses better!

----------------------------------------

Chapter 6

The months went by fast. Soon school was over and Jeff was about ready to ditch that damn wheelchair for good. He hated that contraption. He was still on crutches, mostly, but he was able to get around enough. All that extra baby fat I told you he had? He lost it quicker than anyone guessed he could. Jeff about stopped eating altogether and his mama had to actually force him sometimes. At first, I thought he'd get past it. I figured it was leftover nerves or something from the way things went with those assholes, who at that time I was hoping were rotting in the pen being someone's bitch. That would be a right dandy reward, if you ask me, for what they done. But after a while, you could tell that wasn't what bothered Jeff. He was depressed, that was for sure, but Troy and John and that shithead Frankie ain't the ones he was sad about.

His hands never did heal right, just like them doctors said. That was the real problem. He relearned to write about good enough, but drawing was taking longer on account of how painful it was for him to hold a pencil or anything like that. I would see the tears prick his eyes when he was trying, and the figures all came out awkward looking – like a kid done them. Man, I knew it was killing him. I told you, drawing was the only thing Jeff cared about. And what I done that night ended up taking that away from him. His mama would try to cheer him up, telling him to give it time and that the Lord would help him get it back, providing that was what the Lord had planned for him.

What a crock of shit! I told you, I ain't very religious. Seems like to me that's a cop out that lots of people use in life. It ain't the Lord that broke his hands, was it now? But I tried not to show what I thought of that reasoning so as not to insult Jeff's mama. Like I said, that lady had enough in life to worry about. Even more after Jeff's beating since now her son couldn't help her out no more. I filled in for what he used to do as best I could. My daddy said I should, but I'd a done it anyways. I got them into the fix, the way I saw it.

So, over the summer before our senior year, I helped Jeff with his therapy exercises while I watched his sisters for his mama. He never acted like it was owed him either. He always thanked me and told me I didn't have to. That boy's gratitude was getting on my nerves real bad like. It only kept needling my guilt. I hated that feeling, too. It was like the companion you never wanted that refused to leave you alone. Always there, watching me. Reminding me of my actions.

Anyways, that summer I watched my best friend relearn to walk, and deal with the news that he wouldn't ever see colors right again. Seems that eye lost the ability entirely and the other one could only compensate so much. That and he had to wear a patch over it most sunny days on account of it sensitivity to the light. He could get special glasses to filter out the painful sun rays, but they cost a fortune and insurance didn't cover it. So I used some of my savings and worked part time in the evenings and on weekends to buy them for him. They was all ready for him before school started. He wasn't happy to take what he considered charity but his mama made him take them anyways.

"You know you didn't have to get these for me," he murmured the next day.

"Stop saying that," I growled back. "We know I ain't innocent."

"YOU stop saying THAT!" He finally hissed. I'd been getting used to his temper though, so it didn't faze me. "You wasn't the one that beat me!"

"I might as well a been, seeing as I left you there with three of them!"

"It ain't your right to feel guilty over it!"

"Like hell it ain't!" I about had it with the martyr thing he had going on. I knew it wasn't intentional and whatnot, but it was aggravating as all get out. "And stop telling me I ain't got no reason to feel guilty!" I pointed at his hands. "I may as well a done that to you for all the good I was stopping them!"

"Troy done it!"

"Troy wouldn't a messed around wichew if I'd a stayed!"

"He ain't afraid a you!"

"How'dya know?"

"He said so!"

"Then why'd he wait till I left you to do it?"

That fight ain't something I'm proud to look back on. I was right, don't get me wrong! I knew I was right, too. But he had enough on his mind and I was only making it worse for him. We spent the rest of that day not talking to each other. I kept busy neatening up his room so his crutches didn't get caught up on nothing and he just stared at the TV, nit caring what channels the girls kept changing it to. I thought he might complain or something when they found themselves a Sponge Bob marathon but he didn't, nit even when they sang along with all the songs. They was too old for Sponge Bob but they knew it riled Jeff up, and they was normal pain-in-ass little sisters what liked to piss their big brother off. They didn't realize his best friend already took care of that. I felt even guiltier but didn't know what to do or say to make it better. I never do, you know, no matter who I argue with.

Anyways, our summer was over not long after that, and by the time we was back in school, Jeff was able to walk without the crutches. We was talking again civil like by then so I thought we was making progress. The doctors wanted to take Jeff off his pain meds but he and his mama talked them out of it on account of his back still hurt a lot. They lowered his dosage though and I knew he was in more pain now than before. And those cheap plastic chairs they put you in when you in school didn't help matters. First day was the hardest though. Good thing insurance paid for an orthopedic back brace for him.

"Hey, Jeff, you're walking again!" Trina Edwards said when she saw us come in through the front door.

"Yep." Jeff blushed and looked away, pretending to fix his special glasses.

He never was good with people talking to him that he didn't know, and that was practically the whole school. I was the only one what he'd talk to, except teachers. He was shy and all, and people never did look twice at him, not that he said he wanted them to. So now he had to cope with being noticed on account of he was a local celebrity and all what with what happened to him. And he didn't like that one damn bit, so I tried to run interference for him. Like now. I smiled at Trina and allowed Jeff room to maneuver behind me to hide himself.

"Hey, Trina, you have a good summer?" I asked her to draw her attention away from him.

"Yeah, it was fun!" she brightened again as she looked up at me. "How about you guys?"

"We kept busy," I shrugged. "Saw a couple of movies and whatnot, kept out of trouble."

Yeah, I was pretty smooth, if I do say so myself. The girls liked it when I acted all like that. I could tell Jeff didn't though, because it kept Trina there longer and he just wanted to get to homeroom and fade into the background. Yeah, I told him lots of luck with that. Since he lost the baby fat and cut his hair to keep it out of the way of his glasses, he looked a lot different, and the girls noticed. Too bad for them, he didn't much like female attentions, if you know what I mean. Anyways, Trina's friends called her from down the hall and she quickly told us bye. Neither of us minded though. Trina was cute and all, but she had a big mouth on her, so I wouldn't have wanted to keep her around even in good circumstances. But now, I felt I had a responsibility to Jeff, so I wasn't going to lead a girl on I knew I didn't have no time for anyways.

I settled Jeff into his homeroom and went to mine, just down the hall, and waited for my new schedule, which I already knew would have classes close to Jeff's. He didn't know it yet, but there wasn't nothing he could do about it anyways. The day went on fine after that, but with more girls trying to flirt with Jeff than he even knew existed. It was pretty funny to watch him try to hide from them, but them girls is relentless when they see something they like.

"Why they suddenly bothering me?" he grumped as we made our way to my dad's old car in the parking lot.

Let me just say right here that dad would a never gave me that thing if Jeff wasn't injured and his mama afraid of making him walk home alone. I ain't proud a the way I got her, but I loved that old bucket.

"They think you're interesting," I shrugged, helping him into the passenger's side.

He blanched and looked up at me in horror and I chuckled at him before closing the door and running round the car to get in the driver's side.

"Why?" he demanded.

"'Cause you are, dipshit," I grinned.

He gave me a skeptical like look and I laughed before clarifying it as I switched the car on.

"They ain't never really seen you before, Jeff," I explained. "You kept quiet as a mouse and hid behind shaggy like hair. To them you're like a new kid to get to know."

He frowned and crossed his arms. "I still don't get it."

"I expect you will someday."