A/N: Um, hi. Yes, it has been over a year since the last update. Chapter 4 has been problematic, so I decided to throw it up so I can continue the story and patch things up later if I decide to do a re-write. Thanks for reading!


It had been a month since my parents' funeral. My life was returning to a practiced kind of normal. Adrian had returned to teaching the Monday following the funeral, and I spent most of that week helping movers clean the furniture out of my old house, taking what I wanted to keep to a storage unit I had rented out, and the rest to the auction hall. Following that, Adrian and I cleaned the house from top to bottom to prepare for the sale. We found an agent who suggested to low-ball the market price for a quick sale. Within two weeks, we had several different prospects.

I had also returned to school, even though it was a long trip and Adrian had to drive me due to lack of bus routes. For the time being, I was only attending half my classes and spending the other half of the school day with a counselor. I had been prescribed anti-depressants long-term and was advised things would get better slowly, but I had to continue taking them religiously.

Things were different at school. The entire school knew I was now an orphan. People I had never met before would come up to me and say how sorry they were. I wondered if they did it because they genuinely wanted to help me feel better, or if they wanted other students to think they were cool because of it. It had been nice when my close friends said it, but I just got angry when anybody else did.

I wasn't really getting along with my school friends anymore. When they saw me coming, they would get quiet and even though I said they should just act like they used to, they never did. I know they were trying to be respectful, but alienating me and treating me like I was fragile weren't helping me to recover. If anything, I was feeling trapped. At least Brad, Tim, and Carol still acted pretty much the same as before.

But really, things were pretty crappy. My grades did slip, but because I was working with Mr. Stevens, the counselor, I was given a lot of leeway. The handicap made me want to try even less. I wanted somebody to yell at me, somebody to tell me I had to take responsibility and get with the program, but all everyone ever said was "It's okay, you're under a lot of pressure right now."

I sighed. It was a hazy day, and I was waiting outside the school grounds for Adrian to pick me up. School had gotten out a while ago, and even though I had left my last class feeling horrible, my mood was lifting. Maybe it was the fresh air.

Because Adrian still had to work and my school was at least a half-hour drive away, he wasn't able to get here until after five on most days, hours after school had ended. The wait didn't bother me. I didn't know what I would spend my time doing if I spent my time at the apartment instead of at school.

Finally, I saw his red Audi come into view in the distance. I tried not to fidget as I waited until he pulled in the lot up towards me. I opened the passenger door and slipped into the car.

"Hey, Ty!" He exclaimed in greeting. I said a soft hi. We started driving.

"Okay, so we're going somewhere special for dinner tonight. Just the two of us; don't invite your friends, I can't afford that." He tapped his fingers on the steering wheel and gave me a sideways grin, though his eyes remained focused on the road.

I was confused. "Special? Tonight?" At that, he gave me an incredulous look and I had to wonder just what was growing out of my head and how big it was. I almost held my hand up to my face to make sure there wasn't something on it before he continued.

"Because... your birthday? Right? October sixteenth? Oh jeeze, did Mom tell me wrong?" He looked visibly panicked.

My cheeks flushed. How the hell did I forget about my own birthday? "Yes, it's the sixteenth. That's today?"

"Okay! Now I don't feel so bad! It's okay, you've been under a lot of stress. Mom would have killed me if I didn't do something, though." He seemed to be relieved and gave me a wide smile.

"What do you have planned?" I asked, shifting to get more comfortable in the car seat. After seeing how different Adrian was from my parents, I knew there was no way they had the same concept of 'somewhere nice'.

"I can't tell you yet! It's like a birthday present: you don't know what's inside until you've unwrapped it. But you'll like it, I promise."

I was mad he wouldn't just tell me where we were going, but I wasn't going to let myself get in a bad mood over it. After all, I did appreciate the sentiment.

Several minutes later, it became apparent we weren't heading back to the apartment, but rather we were going to an area of town I learned was called The Square that was popular with the younger generation. There were a lot of different restaurants, cafes, and clubs built around a two-street block, hence the nickname.

Adrian parallel-parked the Audi into a space on the curb, and the smell of cigarette smoke hit my nostrils as he led me to a building that looked to be three stories tall. A neon sign was plastered atop the door in front that read "The Meat & Mash", with a smaller open sign flashing. We walked up the cement steps to the entrance and a bell on the door clinked as we entered.

My eyes immediately began adjusting to the dark atmosphere inside, but I still could make out several people sitting in the lobby, and a bar and restaurant in the back. Each table had a small candlelight flickering inside of a glass container, and there were a few waiters and waitresses—all dressed in black suits—serving guests.

Adrian walked to where a host was giving directions to one of the waitresses, and when the host saw him, he beamed. "Kirkland, long time no see!"

"Hey David," Adrian returned, "Have room for two tonight?" The host tilted his head in confusion when Adrian beckoned to me.

"Oh, I didn't know you were—" David started, but Adrian cut him off.

"This is my cousin, Ty." Adrian said the words in a very pronounced manner. I was confused. David gave me a once-over. "He's been through hell and back so I thought I'd take him somewhere nice."

David smiled. "I'm honored you thought of me." He was wearing thick-rimmed black glasses and his hairline was receding, though he kept his dark hair cropped short. "It will be just a minute."

What felt no longer than thirty seconds later, one of the waitresses in suits beckoned for us to follow her. We sat at a table next to the burnt-red brick wall, and she handed each of us a thick menu.

"My name is Macy, and I'll be serving you tonight. Our soup of the day is French Onion, and this week's special is our fall Squash & Potatoes Casserole. Can I start you off with something to drink?" As she said this, her eyes stuck to my cousin.

He seemed to have no problem flirting with her. I ordered a soda and began looking through the menu. The food seemed to be centered around steak and ribs. After the waitress left to get our drinks, Adrian said, "Anything on the menu is fine. It's a special occasion!"

I ended up getting a rack of spicy ribs with steamed vegetables. I devoured the ribs but the vegetables were kind of gross, so I left them. Adrian ordered a steak with potatoes that had what looked like onions baked into them. He didn't say much the whole time he was so busy devouring his food.

After we had finished eating and Adrian paid, the waitress slipped the receipt onto the table and smiled at him, then slowly walked away. He looked back at her as she began to assist another table, picked up the receipt and beckoned for me to follow him.

As we got into the car, he tore off the bottom part of the receipt and handed it to me, saying with a grin, "Check that out. I knew she was flirting with me." A number was written at the bottom, and "txt me!" scrawled below it.

"So, when's the first date?" I teased, handing it back to him so I could put on my seat belt.

His face turned serious as he pulled the car onto the road. "Naw, she's not really my type."

I decided not to press.

When we got back to the apartment, Adrian pulled an ice cream cake out from the freezer and we ate it while we watched the first and second Terminator movies.

The next day at school was where my patience officially ran dry. During first period, I had been distracted and was doodling in my notebook. My teacher came over and quietly asked if everything was going alright, to which I nodded.

The lecture wasn't getting any more exciting, so I continued to doodle. About a half hour later, I was called down to the counselor's office with no explanation.

I was confused, but still followed the now-familiar path down to the office. When I got there, one of the aides ushered me into the counselor's office. Mr. Stevens, the counselor who had been giving me extra attention, smiled at me as I plopped down in the seat across from him.

"Mr. Beaumont, take a seat." He said, though I had just sat down. "How are you feeling this morning?"

I wasn't sure if he was asking about my immediate mood or asking whether or not I could notice the antidepressants at work. To be on the safe side, I said, "I don't feel happy. I kind of don't feel anything at all."

"Oh." He said as his eyebrows furrowed. He looked down at a sheet of paper on his desk for a minute before saying, "Mrs. Andersen says you've been having a rough time in her class. She suggested allowing you to have a break from studies for a bit until you've recovered. What do you think?"

I could have sworn I felt a twitch in my eyelid. I wasn't having trouble, I had been slacking off, like a normal kid. I was sick of this bullshit and suddenly just wanted to go home.

I knew Mr. Stevens would have to comply. He wouldn't want me to have a breakdown at school. I put on my best sad smile for him. "Today's been really hard on me. Can I call my guardian and see if I can go home for the day?"

"Sure. Do you have a cell phone you can use, or do you need to use the office phone? I'll need to speak briefly with your guardian." His smile looked sympathetic. I mentally scoffed.

"I have a phone. Let me call him real quick." I dialed Adrian's number from my contacts, hoping he wasn't in the middle of teaching. The phone rang three times, four times, five times.

Right before I expected it to go to voice mail, I heard a click, and a hesitant, "Hello? Ty?" His voice sounded tinny through the wireless connection.

"Adrian, um..." I hadn't thought of what to say beforehand. "Do you think you can come and get me? I can't really take it today." I finished, clumsily.

He was quiet for a moment, then said, "Is it an emergency?" The question surprised me.

"Well, no." It almost felt as if I had been caught in a lie, which was partially true, even though it was also true that I was fed up with being treated like a broken child. I didn't know what else to say.

Adrian sighed in frustration. I felt embarrassed. "Can you hold tight? I'll come and get you, but I probably won't be there for an hour."

"Okay. Um, can you speak to the counselor real quick?" I remembered that he needed to give explicit permission to an office personnel in order for me to be released early.

"Sure, let me talk to him." I passed the phone over to Mr. Stevens, who quietly spoke a few words to Adrian. He looked over at his computer monitor and clicked the mouse a few times, and then once he finally seemed satisfied, said thank you, hung up, and handed the phone back to me.

"We'll let you stay in the office while you wait, Mr. Beaumont. Take it easy." He gave me a thin smile and I left the room, opting to sit on a chair right near the exit to the office.

I watched as people entered the office, making up stories in my head for why they were there. The girl with the too-curly red hair and braces was Lucy the band nerd, and she came in crying because she broke one of the braces off her teeth from playing her trumpet. The boy who knew the office aide by name was Cary, the regular. He actually had an IQ of over 160, but because he only wrote his papers in hexadecimal, he was constantly getting in trouble.

After a while, but not long enough for me to get bored out of my mind, I felt a buzzing in my pocket. I took out my cell phone to see it was Adrian calling. I answered.

"Hello?"

"Hey Ty, I'm just pulling into the parking lot. You ready?" I gave my affirmative and hung up the phone, quietly leaving the office.

I saw Adrian's red car waiting by the curb, and quickly entered. He was quiet as we drove. I didn't know him well enough to be able to decipher his mood, so I didn't try.

When we finally arrived at the apartment complex, he drove up to the curb and told me he had to head back to work as he dropped me off. I watched him drive all the way down the block before going into the building and making my way up the stairs.

My mood was fairly bad, so I decided to take a nap on the couch.

I woke up about ten minutes before Adrian got back. He was quiet when he came home, and I could tell he was in a bad mood when he began slamming doors and cupboards in the kitchen. I dared not to move, never having seen him in a mood this bad and feeling kind of frightened.

He was preparing himself a TV dinner. After he had started the microwave, he walked over to the living room, where I was sitting on the couch. I looked up at him.

"This isn't working." He said, his eyes dark.

I gulped. "What do you mean?"

"I can't afford to leave work to pick you up from school just because you don't feel like staying in your classes. The drive is already long enough as it is, I don't want to make the trip more than twice in a day."

My face was getting hot. I was afraid I would start crying. The tension was cut by the microwave beeping, announcing the food was finished cooking. Adrian walked back to the kitchen and, quietly this time, took the food from the microwave, closed the door, and stood in the kitchen for several minutes without doing anything.

After a moment, Adrian let out a long sigh, walked back to the living room, and forced a smile. "Sorry, I shouldn't be taking it out on you. Today was going to be a big teaching day for me at work, but because I had to leave, I had to turn over my lesson plan to the regular teacher. I just got frustrated because I had been working on it for so long." He sat down next to me on the couch and tightly wrapped his arms around me. I did start crying at that point.

It must have been five minutes before he let go of me. I rubbed my eyes, and he stood up and walked back to the kitchen, remembering his food.

I didn't think my voice would carry, so I walked into the kitchen, myself, and said, "Isn't... Isn't there a high school closer to here?"

Adrian looked at me inquisitively as he poured himself a drink. "There are two ones pretty close by. One of them probably has a bus stop nearby. Why?"

I looked down at the floor. Adrian was someone I could be honest—had to be honest—with. I could tell him that I had recovered very well from the shock of the accident and that my biggest problems were the people who were treating me like I hadn't recovered, like I shouldn't be recovering.

"I... I can't stand the way people are treating me. They're afraid to be themselves around me, afraid to be happy around me, because they're expecting me not to be happy. Of course I miss Mom and Dad, but I want to still be able to live a normal life. I feel like I'm losing my friends because all they ever do is tell me everything's alright, that I'll be okay. It's not all right, I want to talk about normal things like sports and homework and TV. I want to be able to joke around with them. I want it to be okay to smile." I gasped for air from finishing everything in one breath.

Adrian was quiet, so I continued. "It's only the people who don't know anything who treat me normally. And the only reason I wanted to come home today is because I was slacking off in first period to a really boring lecture, and the teacher excused me to the counselor's office. I didn't get reprimanded, I didn't get in trouble. I just got pity." I spat out the last word a bit more venomously than I had intended.

"Well, a new school would do that for you, if you're sure that's what you want to do. I have a friend working over at Cotton Hill High, I'll see if I can get in touch with her and see what the transfer process is." He looked me over for a second, then grinned. "And Ty, it's always okay to smile."

I couldn't help but grin back.