An: I had a hard time figuring out what catogory this fit in. It's got friendship in it . . .and a romance. . .so that's what I did. It's in present tense too. I think I'm gonna try that. See how it goes. I'm always switching to it with out realizing it, so maybe I'll do better?

As you can see, this chapter is longer than what I usually write. I actually usually write ten page chapters, so that's what this stories gonna be like, except everyother chapter, there's like another story going on . . .and those are in little chapters. It'll all make sense in the end

Chapter 1


And hate.

I don't see why these two words are considered opposites when they're practically the same thing.

Like this bird I'm watching right now. It's a redwing blackbird. My favorite kind of bird. I love the red rich color against the black velvet feathers. It seems to symbolize something to me.

And yet I hate the damn thing.

"Don't move . . . Stay a moment longer . . ." If the damn bird flies away again, I may shoot it. I've been trying to paint the bastard for about three weeks. It keeps coming to my window, tempting me to capture its beautiful color on paper, but right when I think I got it, it flies away!

Why does it keep coming to my window, anyway? There's nothing interesting about the branch it sits on or about my boring house it's next to.

I mix the red and orange paint together hurriedly, praying it won't fly away. I guess if I really want to paint a redwing blackbird, I could just get a reference picture offline. That would be so much easier.

But I want to paint this blackbird. The one that comes to my boring window to come see the pathetic creature that is me.

Or maybe I just want to make my life harder, because that's just what I seem to do.

I study the canvas, the red paint bright against the bit of black I've managed to put on. The black's not right. It's too dull. I know its black, but it still has to shine. The black has a significance, too. Even though I hate the color black, I love it to death.

"RYAN!" My sister screams as if she's being beaten to death. Of course the black bird flies away, leaving me in this hell. It won't take me with it.


I take a breath, and wipe my hands on my black jeans. Bright orange and red stain them, like the bird. I stand in front of my door. Maybe I won't have to leave. I wait a few more seconds.


"Damn," I mutter, moving as slowly as I can to the doorknob. I'm always moving slowly. I feel like I'm underwater here. I walk through the door and shut it softly behind me. I walk down the dark hall. It smells musty and dirty, like the rest of the house. I don't remember the last time anyone's cleaned it.

I go down the creaky steps till I slowly come to a stop at the bottom.

I can see Kelly in the kitchen. She's going through all the cabinets, slamming them as if she's trying to break them and cursing violently.

I remember when Kelly used to be cute and little. She used to have blond pigtails that bounced up and down when she walked. She smiled with dimples in her cheeks and begged me to take her with me into the woods. Of course I would always try to find a way to get rid of her then, but now I miss that Kelly. I don't recognize this Kelly.

When did she start looking like that? When did she start putting gobs of makeup on to the point she almost looks like a clown? When did she get breasts, and when did she start wearing clothes that make them seem like they're gonna pop out and poke out someone's eye? She's not pretty anymore. She just looks like a slut, really.

She used to be pretty. Really pretty – beautiful, actually. And innocent looking. Now I hate to think of what she does in her free time. It sure isn't following me around.

I tend to stare at her a lot, trying to get it to sink into my brain that this is her. This gets her mad, of course. She doesn't like her stupid brother staring at her with nothing to say. I can't say anything. Then she starts screaming at me, but I can't hear her either. Her voice is loud, and rude. Not soft and sweet like it was.



Actually, I know why this happened, and I could guess the reason. The real question is 'when?' When did that happen?

"RYAN!" The sound hurts my ears and I blink as I snap back to reality. She lifts up her arms before dropping them to her sides and letting out a breath. I can't comprehend this so I just continue to stare. "We have . . . no food!"

Oh. . . .

How does this have anything to do with me? I'm too tired to deal with people right now. I just want to paint my bird. She's looking at me still, expecting me to say something.

"What am I supposed to eat?!"

"Can't you make your own dinner? You're a big girl now."

"Did you not hear me, shithead?! There is no food!"

Shithead . . . that's a new one. She's right, of course. My head is full of shit.

My eyes scan the kitchen. There is no food as far as I can see. Though it's not like I eat here often. I usually go out or eat at Brad's. His mom can cook. "Why can't you just eat out?" I ask. I don't see why she needs dinner tonight. We haven't had dinner in forever.

"Because I don't have any money!" she said between clenched teeth.

"What do you usually do for dinner?"

"IT'S NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS!" she snarls, screaming all of a sudden. It makes me angry.




"I CAN'T!"



I bite back whatever I was going to say.



"We probably don't have any cake mix . . ." I say.


I ignore that and open the fridge. It's filled with beer cans at various stages of use. I spot a bunch of bananas, but they're all brown now. I start checking all the cabinets in the same manner that my sister had done only moments ago. I actually climb up on the counter and stick my head into the cabinets. There are some spices in dusty containers that haven't been touched since we've moved here. "Kelly, we have sugar!"

"That's just great Ryan. We'll just eat sugar for dinner." I ignore her as I grab three bananas and put them in a bowl. Then I started to un-peel them and mash them up.

"Ew, what are you doing? Those things are way past their expiration date!"

"Kelly," I say as I try to find our measuring cups. I can't find any so I take two regular size drinking cups. "Go next door and ask for-"

"I don't want to go next door. Besides, Mrs. Mullen hates me. She thinks I stole her radio."

I'm baffled for a second, but then again you never know with Kelly. "Well, did you?"

"No! Why would I want an old radio?"

"Well, just go. Smile and try to look innocent. Maybe if you . . .wash your face first," I grab a ragged looking towel, but before I can go anywhere close to her she waves her hands around and steps back away from me.

"Stay away from me!"

"Ok, ok." I hand her the two cups. "Ask for two cups of flour and two eggs."

"Are we making a cake?" I shoo her out of the house without answering.

We're not really making a cake. I don't have frosting or anything like that, so it'll just be banana bread. Still, it's better then nothing. The last time I made my mom anything resembling a birthday cake was when I was three.

I don't care what kind of person my mom is, she's past due a birthday cake – or banana bread.

I pour out what is my guess is a cup of sugar till I remember that I need a half a cup of oil, too. After checking the whole kitchen again, I decide to substitute the oil with beer.

No one will notice . . .

"Ryan, what are you doing?"

"It's fine," I reassure Kelly. "It's all part of the recipe."

"This is one messed-up cake."

"It's not cake." I turn on the oven.

"Well . . . Mrs. Mullen gave me some chocolate chips. I told her that we were making cookies to appear somewhat normal."

"Chocolate chips?! That's great!" I gave her a kiss on the cheek. "Good job Kelly," She gives me an odd look like she's about to slap me. I'm surprise she let me kiss her.

I pour in the flower and crack open the eggs.

"What are we making anyway?"

"Banana bread."

"Banana bread . . . ?" she makes a face.

"But with chocolate chips," I add. The chips make it special.

"I guess that'll be ok. . . . Mom likes chocolate chips." I grin at her and she grins back.

Wow . . . my sister and I together in a room and not fighting . . .

I finish stirring all the ingredients. "We have an hour to let it bake. When does Mom get here?"

"Like in a half hour."

"Damn . . . well, she'll just have to wait. We'll order takeout! She can eat that while she waits."

"I don't have any money."

"I'll pay for it. It'll be fine."

We order Chinese food. It doesn't take long for it to get here, and when it does, Kelly and I set up the table, covering the plates so the food stays warm. My mother ends up being 10 minutes late. I'm not surprised, really. Mom's always late. I have a feeling we'll get the banana bread done before she gets here; I'm hoping, anyway.

Twenty minutes go by, and I find some candles in the crevices of my room. I must have made them eons ago for some art project.

When it's time, I take the banana bread out and Kelly writes, 'Happy Birthday' with extra chocolate chips. I watch the chocolate melt as they sit on the hot bread.

I can't remember the last time I've seen Kelly so excited. She's actually cleaning the house now. I hope she doesn't die from anything that she might cause to rise into the air.

We hear a noise at the door.

"She's here!" Kelly sequels. "Quick! Let's hide in the kitchen so we can yell out 'Surprise!'" I let her drag me into the kitchen, but as the door slams open, it becomes apparent that it's not our mother.

Damn . . . I thought she'd come home before him.

I look at my watch. It is pretty late.

There's a huge crash in the hallway followed by a series of loud curses. Each new sound sets my nerves on end. My brain's telling me to run.

Run back to my room. I'll be safe there.

I almost do too, but a defiant look from Kelly tells me to stay. It's sad really. My little sister has always had more courage than me. I'm supposed to be the big brother.

I almost pee my pants when I see my father's gaze. His eyes are narrowed and angry as if accusing me of something.

Why was I never what he wanted? Why am I not good at sports? Why do I never say anything? Why don't I have a girlfriend? Why don't I have a job? Why don't I do anything?

I paint, and that's all I do. But that doesn't count. That's actually negative points. That's almost enough to get kicked out of the house.

But I'm not. I'm still in the house. I wouldn't be of course if he knew the truth.

Actually, if he knew the truth, he'd probably shoot me with the gun he keeps in the closet, instead of just kick me out.

I'm sort of hoping to keep my secret until I die . . . but I can't. I have to tell Brad . . . or maybe I won't. Anyway nobody else knows, counting my dad.

But since he doesn't know, I get instead the screaming and hitting.

He use to hit me with his belt – the buckle side – but he hasn't done that to since I was 12 when I broke a mirror. It was an accident; my mother asked me to move it.

I hate him.

But he's my father, so I love him, too. That's the only reason. He scares the shit out of me.

"What the hell is all this crap?!" At first I think he's talking about the food on the table, but it looks like he's talking about us.

"It's Mom's dinner. It's for Mom," Kelly says coolly, making it clear that it isn't his.

"What're the rest of us gonna eat, then?"

"I don't know!" Kelly cries out. The thing with our family: for some reason while I'm trying to resolve any conflict with my father and make him happy, Kelly seems to like to make things worse. If she has to talk back to him, why can't she not yell? Can't we all get along?

Of course not. Why would we do a thing like that?

"Well if you were going to the trouble to make dinner, why would you do it for only one person?!"

"We didn't know you'd be home . . . this. . . ." My voice dies as he looks at me. Well that was my attempt to keep the peace.

He lifts the lid to the plate of Chinese food, to Kelly's displeasure. He does it slowly, as if enjoying her suffering. "Well your mother isn't coming back anyway. You wasted your time."

"What do you mean? Where did she go?!" Kelly cried out.

My father shrugs. "As far away from here as she can. She ain't coming back.." He took a mouthful of romaine noodles.

"STOP IT!" Kelly screams.

"What was that?" my father asks with a dangerous note in his voice.

"Take that shit out of your mouth! I told you it's for Mom!"

My father gets up."Don't speak that way to me!"

"Where the hell is Mom!?"

"I told you she's gone! She's far away. I can see why, with you spewing shit all over the place!"

"If she did leave it's to get away from you, you bastard! The way you treat her I'm surprised she didn't leave years ago!"

I wish I was wherever my mother was right now. Far away.

"I don't fucking believe you anyway! She wouldn't leave me."

"Oh yeah?!" my father cries back. "With the words that come out of your mouth, young lady?! She's gone! She'd rather live without any of us! She wouldn't stay here just for your pathetic existence! She's ashamed of you!"

Oh my God, then my sister's fist strikes my father across the face. He lunges at her, and she sprints off, screaming.

My father has never given our mom bruises before – that I know of – but I've seen him shove her and threaten to hit her. When I was younger, I was always afraid he'd kill her or something.

Now – even though deep down I know he'd never really hurt Kelly – I can't help but feel the same fear. I don't even realize myself picking up the knife.

Him and Kelly have ran into the living room, Kelly ducking behind the couch to keep away from my father.

I'm a few feet away from them when I cry, "DON'T HURT HER!" My father spins around and glares at me, the knife in my hand.

"You trying to stab me, boy?" he says in a deadly quite voice.

I drop the knife. I don't know what I was going to do with it. I wasn't thinking. No . . . No, I wasn't going to stab him. . . . Was I?

Kelly runs upstairs crying as she does it. I can't move, my father's gaze is still on me.

"Get out of my sight," he finally says, and I sprint up the stairs. Once in the hallway, I stop to catch my breath. My chest hurts from my heart beating so fast. I'm sweating like crazy. I can hear Kelly crying in her room. I walk slowly to her door. I give it a knock.

"Go away!" she says.

"Kelly . . ." I start. "She'll come back. She always comes back."

I'm answered with a bang, as something strikes the door from the other side. I sigh and go back to my room. Once inside with the door safely locked, I lay on my bed. It seems quiet now. Too quiet. Mom can't really be gone, gone. She's disappeared on us all the time before. I can still remember her clearly. I saw her just this morning. She was sleeping on the couch before she had to go to work.

Feeling like I have to do something at that moment, I grab some paper and my pack of pastels and leave my room. I stand in the hallway, listening. It seems that my father has returned to the family room – though I wouldn't call it a family room since he's the only one that uses it – to watch TV like he does every night. I creep down the steps, making more noise than I want. I can't help it. My stairs are too old.

Once I get to the living room, I plop myself on the floor, placing my paper on the coffee table. I look at the blue couch. I can see my mom laying on it perfectly. I draw the outline of the couth and then the curve of her body, the gently slope of her cheek. My mom has honey-blonde hair, the same as Kelly's. Kelly and her look a lot alike. I unfortunately look a lot like my father with his dark hair and black eyes. I wish I had blue eyes. Blues eyes are pretty.

I draw in my mom's black fake lashes and blue eye shadow. I put a little color in her cheeks. Not too much. Just a touch of pink.

She was wearing her pink and red waitress uniform, her name tag already on, but the last button was un-buttoned.

It's a quick sketch, not much detail except in the face, but that's ok. Her face is all that I really need.

I go back to my room, and hang the picture on my wall. I sit on my bed and stare at in.

Mom's gone. . . .

That's what my father said.

She was always telling him that she would leave. She was always saying she was unhappy, but I never thought she'd actually do it. She was always smiling and laughing, but then . . . it wasn't a happy reaction. It was almost mockingly . . .

So maybe she really was gone.

As this sinks in, I feel my stomach drop and my face get hot. Why would she leave us? To get away from dad? Then why didn't she take us with her?!

My chest constricts and I lean back against the wall. If I had to choose between our parents, it would always have been Mom. Even if I'm not sure if our father really loves us, I always thought mom did.

And now I'm not so sure anymore.

I can feel tears starting to well in my eyes, but before I can do anything I hear a noise of creaking wood, and something hitting against the glass of my window.

It's a sound that whenever I hear it, I immediately get excited. Even if I hear just a sound that's similar to it, I get the usual feeling before I realize it's something else.

It's really the best sound ever.

I hurry to my window, and open it all the way to stick my head out.

"Grab my hand!" He says, reaching out to me. Not a "Hello" or "What's up", but "Grab my hand". Go with him without question or hesitation. I almost do, for it's oh-so-tempting, but I remember that this is reality, and if I try to jump out of my window to the tree, even with Brad's hand, I'd fall.

"No," I say. "Throw me the rope!"

"You don't need the rope . . ." he says with a wave of his hand.

"You want me to kill myself?"

"Fine, fine." He throws me the rope that's been tied to the tree forever. "Do it the 'safe' way." He calls it the safe way, but it really isn't all that safe. I'm still jumping out of my second story window, holding for dear life onto a piece of rope like Tarzan.

And I am never graceful.

I let out a cry, as I do every time I do this, no matter how hard I try not to, and I pray that no one hears me. My father's in a worse mood than usual tonight.

I start to swing back and let go of the rope before I hit the house wall, landing hard on the ground.

Brad lands nimbly on the ground next to me. "You have to do that every night I get you?"

I open my eyes to see Brad's beautiful face looking down at me. Brad has hazel eyes; sometimes I think they look gold. His hair's gold too, though it's cut short because he's on the football team. . . . That's not all a bad thing though. It means Brad's very well built too. He's practically perfect.

Has my problem become apparent yet?

I'm only obsessed with the guy.

He offers me his hand and I take it with butterflies in my stomach. I am so pathetic. I'm the polar opposite of Brad. Maybe that's why I love him so much. Maybe it's because he's everything I'm not. It makes me hate myself, so I hate him for it.

But I'm madly in love with him as well.

"Come on! Let's go before your dad finds us!" We run together in the dark. Times like these are the best in my life. The excitement lets my imagination get the best of me. Maybe Brad and me are running away together, never to come back, ever. We'll be together forever and no one would ever bother us again.

We get to Brad's car and he leaps over the hood to get to the other side, while I hurriedly climb inside. He starts the car and hits the gas before I even get the door closed. The radio was left on at max, and the wheels scream as they burn against the road. Brad lets out a whoop at the accomplishment of getting in the car. I think he likes to try to wake up as many people as possible every night, just for the hell of it. Another thing about Brad I like.

The song that's playing happens to be "Move Along" by the All-American Rejects and Brad starts singing rather badly at the top of his lungs.

"'Could be a night when your life ends! Such a heart that will lead you to deceiving. All the pain held in! Your hands are shaking cold! Your hands are mine to hoooold!'"

It's really terrible. A cat could sing better than Brad. He's not singing to anybody; he's just screaming his lungs out for fun, but I like to sometimes think he's saying those words to me. . . . Though he's not. He's just singing.

"'Move along, move along!'"

We zip through the town, giving us the title of juvenile delinquents for the night. We park the car in fount of his house, the music turned down so as not to wake his parents, and climb out of the car. We sprint for the woods behind his house before we arrive at a familiar tree.

I can't say how many times we've done this. Since we were kids, we'd camp out in the woods in a tree house that Brad's dad made and sleep there. It was so natural that I don't think either of our parents would be surprised that we weren't in our beds tonight, not that my father would check to see if I was in bed.

We climb in and sit on our customary sleeping bags – They've been left here because the nights have been nice – and Brad throws me a bag a chips.

"Ok," he says. "Do I got news to tell you . . ."

"Yeah . . . I have news too," I say, though I don't sound as excited as Brad. Brad picks it up.

"What's the matter? Something happen?"

I take a breath before responding. "I think . . . I think my mom left us."

"For good?"


Brad stares at me in shock. Neither of us say anything for a moment. Then he says, "Are you gonna cry? 'Cause it's ok if you cry."

I shake my head. "No, I'm not gonna cry."

"No, it's ok. No one's here to see you. It's ok." He opens his arms. "You need a hug?" he asks in a cutesy voice, eyebrows raised.

"No," I say. I'm lying of course. Man am I lying.

"Come on . . . you wanna a hug . . ." He wiggles closer to me. I try to crawl away, but only halfheartedly. "You need a big hug full of love!" I let him pull me into his chest. Brad's hugs are always bear hugs, and it feels unbelievably wonderful to me. I feel myself about to cry again. No, stop that. Don't cry. Whatever you do don't cry.

I bend my neck to rest my forehead on Brad's shoulder, squeezing my eyes shut. Brad smells nice and I find it comforting. He pats me hard on the back, and the force lets a small sound escape my throat.

He pulls me away as if he just realized how dangerous close I am about to cry. "Man are you all right? It'll be all right. Maybe she'll come back."

I nod my head because I don't think I can speak.

"I'm really sorry. Come here." He pulls me into another hug and I wrap my arms around him, taking advantage of this moment as much as I can. I hope my nose doesn't start running. That would be embarrassing.

After a moment, he pulls away from me. "There, better now?"

I nod. "Yeah."

He opens my bag of chips. "Here, eat your Fritos. They're good for ya."

I grin despite myself."Weren't you gonna say something before? You had news, right?"

Brad waves his hand. "Oh, but it sucks now that I've heard about your mom."

"What was it?"

He lets himself get excited because he can't hold it anymore, but I know my problems have put a damper on things. I feel sort of guilty for setting the mood . . . but not completely, because I got to put my arms around Brad.

"My dad got me a new football . . ." He pulls it out from its hiding place under his pillow. "Signed by Tom Coughlin!"

"I'm not gonna even pretend I know who he is."

"Yeah, I gave up on you a long time ago . . . but a football is still fun." He's trying to cheer me up. I hate football, but the thought is nice.

He throws me the football. I catch it, but the force of his throw makes me wince slightly. "He catches it, but can he take it to the post? He's almost there! Oh! But no!" Brad tackles me, and we're both sent to the ground.

Ignoring the pain, the crushed Fritos underneath me, and the fact that none of this really means anymore than trying to cheer up a friend . . . I find the moment perfect.

"Get off of me," I say as I push him up.

"You're supposed to dodge me."

"We're in the tree house!"

We talk about random things, keeping away from sensitive topics. A good deal of time after midnight, we finally get tired enough to curl up in our sleeping bags. You can see the stars if you look out the window. It's comforting just being here. It's a place of memories, innocent memories . . .like the feeling of an old baby blanket. I suddenly miss my mother again, and it's almost overwhelming.

"Brad . . .?" My voice has a tremor in it.

"Yeah . . .?" he answered sleepily.

"Thanks for coming to my window tonight." He comes randomly. I never know when he'll show up, but tonight couldn't have been a better night.

"Sure thing, man."

"It really meant a lot to me, to be with somebody."

He makes a noise and rolls over so I can see his face. His eyes are closed. He's almost asleep.

"Especially . . . you . . . being with me . . ." He doesn't answer. He's asleep. I sigh as I stare at his handsome face. I raise my hand hesitantly – I know I shouldn't but – I brush a small lock of blond hair on his forehead. He doesn't notice and I smile. I'll tell him someday . . . or maybe I won't.

I close my eyes, feeling his breath on my face and I fall asleep.