,A/N: Thanks for the reviews. :) They really mean a lot to me, and as always, I update this story for you wonderful reviewers.


Chapter 17: Eruption

I shove my laptop into its bag and leave my bedroom, locking the door behind me. I grimace as I hear the loud music coming from Luke's room. He does that sometimes, and I find it really annoying. I mean, a moderate volume is completely fine, but this is quite a bit louder than moderate. I'm a little surprised that we haven't gotten any complaints about it yet. Although, other people in the building also do it sometimes. When I want to listen to music, I typically use headphones. Is that so inconceivable for Luke?

I resist the urge to bang on his door and tell him to turn it down – I don't want any unnecessary confrontations. Also, the last time I complained to him about it, he told me to stop acting like an elderly man. Normally, I wouldn't even have said anything, but I had been trying to study for a test, which became difficult as a result of the steady music pumping through the walls.

I sigh as I leave the building. I'm on my way to meet Rylan. I've put that stuff about him and that guy out of my mind. I trust Rylan, and I don't want to create any problems between us. Besides, he makes it clear that he wants to be with me.

The days are becoming a little colder now, and I shiver in the Autumn wind, pulling my light jacket tighter against myself. The trees are beautiful; their leaves are various shades of gold, red and brown. The leaves flutter in the wind, scatter across the ground, crunch beneath my shoes, fall aimlessly – free. I envy that sense of freedom. I long for the ability to be who I am without consequence, guilt or fear. Whether that's possible or not remains to be seen.

I open up the doors of the school, walking past the various students bustling through the halls. I head upstairs to the newest part of the building where Rylan and I agreed to meet. I like this part of the school a lot. It has white floors, and high white walls, with two sides of the building being completely composed of glass.

Some people say that all of the white reminds them of being in a psych ward or a hospital. I, however, think it's nice and modern-looking. To each his own, I suppose. The consequence of such a design is that when the floor is dirty, you can see everything: every stray hair, coffee spill, and trace of mud. That aspect of it is definitely not so pleasant.

Anyway, I reach the second floor and quickly spot Rylan sitting on one of the couches next to the glass wall. I admire the view: Rylan and the scenic, colourful tress behind him. His head is turned, talking to a girl who is standing to his left, so he doesn't notice me until I'm a couple of feet away.

He says "bye" to the girl and then turns to me, smiling. "Hey, cutie."

I feel my cheeks heat up and am unable to suppress the smile that is threatening to take over my face.

"Hey, Riley," I say, attempting to keep my voice nonchalant and trying out the nickname.

He makes a face. "Oh God, I'm called that by my sister and nearly every girl I know."

I laugh at his reaction. "Really? Do you mind, though? I like it."

"From you? Not really. It's too bad that I can't give you a nickname, though. Your name's too short." His eyes travel to my hair, and he smiles. "Oh, I think you made a little friend."

"What?" I ask, as I look around myself, confused.

He gestures with his hand for me to come closer. "Bend down a little."

I do as he says, even though I have no idea what he's talking about. He reaches over and laughs as he pulls a big, red leaf off of my head.

I stare at it in mock horror. "Oh God, was that in my hair this whole time?" I ask, feeling embarrassed for having walked throughout the school with a leaf attached to my head like a wannabe tree. I run my fingers through my hair, making sure that there are no more, and thankfully, there aren't.

Rylan turns the leaf over in his hands, examining it. "Don't worry. It shows that you're one with nature," he says with a slight smile on his face.

I laugh. "Yeah, right. I must have looked so idiotic like that." I wonder if people noticed...they must have; that leaf is quite large, and red. Why couldn't it at least have been brown?

"Nah, it's not a big deal." He places the leaf down on the white table in front of him. I pull off my jacket and unwind the scarf from around my neck, before placing them on a chair. I take the seat across from him, unzipping my laptop from its bag, pulling it out and turning it on. I then sigh in an exaggerated fashion, causing Rylan to look up at me curiously.

"What's wrong? Forget about the leaf thing; it was really not that bad," he says.

I shake my head. "No, it's not that. I...I'm thinking about switching my major," I tell him. I've been avoiding this decision for weeks now. I really should have dealt with it earlier, but I'm afraid of making the wrong choice.

It's funny that Luke is the reason why I'm even considering this; he's the one who encouraged me to do it, after all. Who knew he could be helpful? When he's not attacking me with his words, glares, and rude sound effects, he can actually be...somewhat nice. He's a strange one, that's for sure. Or maybe erratic is a better word.

"Noah?" Rylan's voice pulls me out of my Luke assessment. He's watching me curiously. He says that I seem distracted sometimes; maybe he's right about that. I certainly have a lot to think about.

"Yeah?" I ask, adjusting my laptop. The glare from the glass wall is making it difficult to see the screen properly. As beautiful as the view outside is, this may not be the best place to use a laptop. Or at least, not the best angle for it.

"I asked what you want to change your major to," he says.

"Oh sorry. Software engineering...it's stupid, I know," I tell him, feeling embarrassed.

He looks surprised. "It's not stupid at all. That's actually a really good field. You know how much money those people can make? Good money, Noah," he stresses.

I laugh at his insistence. "Yeah, I know. And I think it'd be really interesting. I like that kind of stuff, working with computers." I open up the browser and go to the school's website.

"You should definitely pursue what you love. What's preventing you from going for it?" he asks.

"Well, my dad was insistent that I go into business like he did," I say glumly.

Rylan looks at me seriously."It's your life, not his. And you know, you could always do a certificate in business admin., so you wouldn't completely be losing that."

"Hm, you're right. I didn't think of that option. That way, at least the business courses that I'm taking now will still count towards something."

He nods. "Exactly. So, are you going to switch?"

"I don't know...should I?" I ask.

"I can't make that decision for you. You need to decide what you want."

I sigh. "Yeah, I know."

He closes his laptop a little. "Okay, pros and cons. If you do it, what's the worst that could happen?"

I think for a moment. "My dad won't help me pay for it."

"Alright, well, you can always get a loan. Many of people do," he says.

"I'd like not to be in debt, though," I point out. I really don't want to have loans to pay off for years to come.

"Okay, then talk to your dad. Maybe he'll understand," Rylan suggests.

Unfortunately, my father and "understand" do not correspond in any way. It would probably be a foreign concept to him, something completely absurd and unheard of.

"He won't understand," I sat definitively.

"Okay, then what are the pros? Do they outweigh the negatives?"

"Well, I would be going into the field that I want. Hopefully, after graduation, I would get a good job and enjoy it." And be happy, which is, unfortunately, quite a foreign concept to me as of late. It's difficult to be happy when nearly every aspect of your life ends up in a shambles. I mean, there are certain aspects that I'm happy about: school, friends, Rylan, the part of my family that doesn't hate me...

I know that despite all of the awful things that have happened to me, I still have a lot to be grateful for. There are people out there whose lives are a lot worse than mine; I really shouldn't complain.

Rylan smiles. "I believe you'd do well. You need to think positively and trust yourself. Anyway, if you stayed with business, as you are now, and graduated with that degree instead of the one that you really want, would you regret it?"

I don't even need to think about it. "Yes, I would."

"Then you have your answer."

I shake my head. "It's not that simple."

"It could be...if you let it. The choice is yours," he says, reopening his laptop.

"Hm..."

I go to the page where students can request to change their programs. The one factor that is really stopping me from doing this, is Dad, I guess. It's not really about the money. I mean, my grandparents on my mom's side have been helping me out with that. They've always been really generous to me. They, unlike many others, have never turned against me.

Some other family members have also been looking out for me, trying to make sure that I have what I need. After what happened this summer, many of them have been quite sympathetic to my situation. Usually I decline the money, though, because I feel guilty about taking handouts. I could also, of course, get a job.

"Okay," I say finally.

Rylan looks up at me. "Yeah?"

"I'm going to do it."

He smiles. "Really? Good for you. I'm sure you'll do great in it."

"Thanks." It's nice to have someone support me with this.

My heart is hammers in my chest as I scroll through the program selection options. When I see "software engineering" I freeze, hovering the mouse over it for a minute. Then I click it and fill out the rest of the form.

My hands feel sweaty, and I'm beginning to wonder why I'm so afraid. It's not like the change will happen immediately – it has to be approved first. When I reach the button to submit my request, I pause again, trying to think of any valid reason why I shouldn't.

After a few moments of inner debating, foot-tapping, and lip-biting, I click the button quickly and watch as the confirmation page flashes onto the screen.

It's done.


When my last class of the day is finally finished – an evening class, or in other words, the worst thing possible – I walk across the darkened campus and head towards the residences. I walk quickly, in anticipation of warmth and relaxation after a long day of taking notes, writing a test and worrying about my major. I seriously hope that I didn't make the wrong decision.

A few minutes later, I reach my floor and unlock the apartment door with cold hands, stepping inside. I look to my left and see Luke and Aiden sitting across from each other in the living room, each holding cards. They look up at me at once.

"Hey, do you know how to play euchre?" Aiden asks.

I shake my head as I close the door behind me. "Um, no, I don't think I've played that," I answer.

"It's easy to learn. Do you want to join in?" He gestures to the empty seat.

I look at Luke, expecting some sort of contestation, but he just shrugs and says, "It is better with more people."

"Alright," I say hesitantly as I pull my bag off my shoulder and sit down across from them. I can't believe that Luke is allowing me to hang out with him. I'm really curious to know what exactly he thinks of me. I mean, whenever he's rude to me, he apologizes afterwards. Which side is genuine – the mean one or the nice one? That is the question.

Aiden explains the rules of the game and then re-deals out the cards. We begin playing, and I try to follow along. I soon start to catch on, and it's actually quite fun.

"Why are you guys playing cards, anyway?" I ask curiously after awhile. I mean, out of all the things that someone could do, why this? Cards have always been a last-resort type of entertainment for me, when there is absolutely nothing better to do, or the power's out.

"Aiden broke the TV," Luke answers, shooting an accusing glance in Aiden's direction.

"It is not broken. Will you stop saying that?" Aiden asks him, a hint of frustration in his voice.

"Yeah, well-" Luke starts, but then a cell phone rings, and we all instinctively reach towards ours. It turns out to be Luke's. He brings it to his ear, and I'm surprised when he answers the person on the other end in a competent-sounding French.

He talks to the person for a few minutes, and when he hangs up with an "À bientôt", I laugh. "Are you French?"

He gives me a weird look. "Half, yes. And it's my first language. Why, is that funny to you?"

"No...I just didn't know that. You don't have an accent when you speak English," I notice.

He shrugs. "I started learning it when I was young, and now I'm fluent in both. Lucky for me – girls tend to think it's pretty sexy," he laughs.

"Oh, so that's your secret, huh?" I ask sarcastically.

"One of many; I have a lot of secrets." He smiles slyly. "But I am very happily in a relationship right now, so that doesn't really matter."

"It's too bad that Bree fell for it. Poor girl," I say quietly enough that they don't hear me. Luke is being quite nice at the moment; I don't want to ruin that.

"He's been trying to teach me for a long time," Aiden says. "But it's such a complicated language."

"It is not that complicated," Luke disagrees.

Aiden laughs. "This coming from the guy who is fully bilingual."

"Yeah, well, you know. I guess I'm just fortunate," he says.

"Um, I think I'm going to go put my stuff away," I tell them, because I haven't gone to my room since I got in, and I would kind of like to.

Luke shoots me a disapproving glance. "You're really going to disrupt the game like that?" he asks.

"It's okay. I kind of want a drink anyway," Aiden says, before I can answer.

"Get me something?" Luke asks him.

Aiden shoots him a look and laughs. "You live here. You get it."

I stand up and grab my bag. "Um, so I'll be back," I tell them, before walking over to my room. Once I get there, I lean my bag against the wall and return my laptop to the desk, plugging it in to charge it. I look through my phone, checking for any missed messages.

I jump when I hear Luke's voice behind me. "So this is what your room looks like, huh? Rather boring. I guess it mimics its owner." He laughs.

I turn around and see him standing in the doorway, looking around the room. And his attitude is back again. I definitely hadn't missed it.

"You know, my door being open is not an invitation for you to walk in here unannounced," I mutter, returning my phone to the desk. I mean, seriously? I don't like having people just waltz into my room like that. Especially not him. Not when he's being a jerk, anyway.

"Why? Are you hiding something?" he asks as he walks in further.

I sigh. "No, but I bet you wouldn't like it if I just walked into your room."

He ignores that and walks over to my nightstand. My heart freezes when he reaches for the framed picture of me, Mom and Logan.

"Don't touch that," I tell him firmly.

He pauses and looks at me curiously. "Why not?"

"I don't want you to." I walk forward, with the intention of picking up the picture before he can, but he grabs it first.

He glances at it and then back at me, smirking. "Aw, is this a picture of Mommy?" he asks mockingly.

The anger begins to rise through me. This is not a subject for which I'm willing to acquiesce myself and accept his attitude. This is still very sensitive for me. I don't even like talking about it – with anyone. I absolutely do not need him mocking me for it.

"Give it back," I say sternly as I reach out for the picture.

He pulls it out of my reach, laughing. "That's cute. Noah's a mama's boy," he says sarcastically.

I cannot deal with this right now. The pain, the memories, the fire... And he's just laughing. It's altogether infuriating. He doesn't know about what happened, but he should just stop. He always has to cross the line with me. Every word that is coming out of his mouth sends a wave of fury crashing through me. I feel myself coming undone; I won't be able to restrain myself for much longer if he doesn't stop.

I put as much force into my voice as possible, trying to hold onto my slipping control. "I'm serious. Give it to me."

He gives me a smug look instead, clearly enjoying himself. "Do you miss your mommy, Noah? Is that why you-"

And suddenly, I'm pushed over the edge.

"She's dead!" I snap impulsively. I didn't mean to say those words, didn't want to tell him, but it's out there now. No taking it back. I am shaking with anger, resisting the strong, and ever-so-tempting, urge to drive my fist into his face. To hurt him the way he's hurting me.

Luke looks at me in surprise, frozen in place. So now he knows how to be quiet?

"What? You don't have some snide comment to make? Some sarcastic remark? Don't you want to laugh about it?" I ask bitterly.

His voice softens, as does his facial expression. "I'm so sorry. I had no idea."

"Right, it's a little late for apologies." I point to the picture in his hand. "Give it to me."

He hands it over, finally. "Noah, seriously, I didn't mean to-"

"Get out," I say coldly.

"Look, I didn't know that-"

"Get out!" I yell forcefully, surprising myself. Luke looks shocked, and he stares at me with wide eyes. The room is silent, and I am seething.

After a moment, he speaks. "Okay, I'm really sorry." His voice is quiet. He walks towards the door and then pauses in the doorway. He looks back at me as if he wants to say something more. I cross my arms and turn my head away indignantly, waiting for him to leave. He sighs and walks through the door. I then walk over to it and slam it shut as hard I can, the slam reverberating throughout the otherwise-silent room, so harsh and jarring a sound.

I'm still shaking in anger and misery. I return the picture to its place on the nightstand and then collapse onto the bed, eyes stinging. I can't believe Luke – his audacity, his selfishness. I'm usually a pretty calm person, but that calmness has its limits, and Luke just pushed me far beyond mine.

As if losing my mother wasn't difficult enough, do I really need to be ridiculed for it too?

There's a sudden knock at the door, and I groan in frustration, trying to ignore it. Why can't Luke just stop bothering me? Sometimes it feels like he sets out to make my life miserable – and he definitely does a good job at it.

The obnoxious knocking continues.

"Leave me alone," I call sullenly.

"Noah? It's Aiden," comes from the other side of the door.

Aiden? What does he want? It's not like we're friends; I barely know him.

"Yes?"

"Can I come in for a sec?" he asks.

I sigh and sit up. "Okay, it's unlocked," I call.

The door opens slowly, hesitantly, as if he's afraid of what he'll find on the other side.

He then peeks his head in. "Hey."

"Hi," I respond meekly.

Aiden walks in further and pushes the door behind him, but doesn't fully close it. For some reason, this is reminding me of when I was in the hospital, when the officer told me – no, informed was the word he used – that mom was gone. The awkward uncertainty and discomfort are once again ever-present.

Aiden turns towards me, a look of pity on his face. "I'm really sorry about your mom," he says, his voice is soft.

"Thanks."

"And I'm sorry about Luke," he continues. "What he did was completely out of line."

I nearly scoff. "You don't have to apologize for him. He knew what he was doing. He hates me."

Aiden sighs. "He feels bad really about it. He didn't know. And I honestly don't think he hates you; he just likes to get a reaction out of you."

I laugh humourlessly. "That's great. That's a great excuse for his repulsive behaviour. I bet you're going to tell me that I deserved it too," I say, annoyed. It's certainly not okay to excuse Luke's actions as "he was just playing with you – get over it".

Aiden shakes his head. "No, that's not what I'm saying at all, and I'm sorry if it sounded that way. Look, I don't really know you, but you seem very nice. Luke was being an ass, and of course you don't deserve that. He takes it too far sometimes."

"Sometimes?" Ha, if only it were sometimes. I could deal with sometimes. Sometimes would be quite preferable to the reality of the situation.

"Well, the thing is...he doesn't usually act that way. I was actually very surprised to see how he is with you. I mean, he jokes around a lot, but he's never outright mean to people like that. Especially to people who haven't done anything to him."

"I definitely don't do anything to him, and he's always ready to insult me. I hate it. I hate living here," I realize, although I hadn't really intended to say that last part out loud.

Aiden is silent for a moment, looking sympathetic and thoughtful. "I think you should talk to him," he says.

I look at him in surprise. What could that possibly solve? I really don't want to talk to Luke at this point; I'm done with him.

"No, I'm never going to make that mistake again," I say resolutely.

"I think you guys just need to come to an understanding."

"I think I just need to switch to a different building," I say bitterly.

"You really want to do that?" he asks, sounding surprised.

"Yes. I should have done it a long time ago," I realize.

He sighs. "Luke really screwed up with this, but...I hope you'll be okay."

"Yeah, I'll be fine – so long as I never have to see him again."

He laughs lightly. "I think- I mean, I hope that he'll have learned his lesson from this, and it won't happen again."

"Oh, I doubt it." Luke learning his lesson? Highly unlikely.

"In any case, don't let him bring you down," he says, his voice sounding a little brighter. "Um, so, I'll see you later, and try not to take Luke seriously when he says stuff like that."

"Why not?" I ask. Why should he always be excused for being a jerk? How many times have I forgiven him, anyway? When will it end?

"Like I said, I think he just does it to get a response from you," he says.

"Oh, right. Well, yeah, later." This conversation really isn't helping me, but I guess I appreciate that he cares or at least appears to.

"Okay, um, I hope you feel better," he adds.

"Yeah."

He then leaves the room, closing the door behind him. I sit still for a few moments, before picking up my phone and calling Rylan who answers on the third ring.

"Hey...what's up?" His voice sounds groggy, sleepy.

"Hey, did I wake you?"

"Yeah...I was playing soccer almost all afternoon, and now I'm really tired. It's okay, though."

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to." I feel bad for waking him up, but I really don't want to be here right now. I don't want to be alone; I need to go somewhere. "Um, can I come over?" I ask.

"Yeah, sure. Are you alright? You sound upset," he notices.

"I'll explain when I get there, okay?"

"Alright, I'll see you soon."

I hang up and then stand from the bed, thankful that I still have my shoes on, because I hadn't taken them off when I got in. I then walk over to the door. I pause in front of it, not wanting to face Luke, but knowing that I'll have to walk through the living room to leave here.

I slowly count to ten, and then count to thirty, and then decide that I should just get it over with. I take a deep breath and turn the knob, pushing the door open. I begin to walk silently through the hallway. I hear Aiden's and Luke's voices in the living room, and they stop talking once I emerge. I don't look at them as begin to walk towards the door. Instead, I keep my eyes lowered to the bland, grey carpet.

"Noah, I'm so sorry," Luke says almost immediately. The gentleness and sincerity that I hear in his voice cause me to look up at him, much against my will. When I see his face – features softened in remorse, eyes pleading for forgiveness – I almost, almost, want to concede and forgive him. His facial expression is almost making me feel guilty for being its cause. However, I steadily force myself not to give in to his charm; what he did was completely unacceptable.

"I'm moving out," I say decisively.

"What? Seriously?" Luke asks, sounding surprised.

I choose to ignore him. I open the door and step out into the hallway before slamming it shut behind me. Although this time, it's not completely intentional. I am furious, the anger burning through me like a volcanic eruption.

I walk out into the darkness of night, shivering as the cool wind hits my skin – a contrast to the red-hot anger that is threatening to consume me. I head over to Rylan's, practically flaring. I can't remember the last time I was so angry. When I reach Rylan's floor, I walk over to his door and knock on it, perhaps a little more forcefully than necessary.

He opens it, looking rather tired, in shorts and a t-shirt. His hair is messily arranged on his head, and I can see indented lines on his cheek from where it must have been pressed against his pillow.

"Hey, come in," he says, stepping out of the way.

"I'm sorry for waking you up," I say guilty as I walk inside, pulling off my shoes.

"It's alright. Don't worry about it." He leads me to his bedroom and closes the door behind us. "So, what happened?" he asks, turning to me.

I sigh. "Luke happened," I say bitterly.

"Your roommate? What did he do?" he asks as he leads me to sit down on the bed. The comforter is pulled down and the sheets are rumpled.

I feel uneasy about this impending conversation. Rylan doesn't even know about what happened to my mom. I've never given him any details about all of that. I know that he wants to me to talk to him about it; I just really don't like dwelling on that. I try to put it behind me, to move forward. But Luke just had to bring it all back to the surface.

"He was taunting me, and I told him something that I didn't want to," I begin.

Rylan's face changes into one of concern. "Why was he taunting you? And what did you tell him?"

"Because he's a jerk, and he hates me," I say, frustrated, in response to his first question.

Rylan puts his arm around me and rubs my shoulder comfortingly. "He's still being mean to you? I wonder what his problem is."

"I don't know; he won't say. I guess he just really hates me."

"What an idiot. He really needs to stop that." He shakes his head. "And what did you tell him?" he asks.

This is the harder part.

I fiddle with my hands in my lap. "Um, I've never told you this before, but my mom..." I trail off, unsure of how to continue.

He looks confused. "What about her?"

I take a deep breath and force myself to say the painful words. "She...she passed away this summer." My voice is low, but he still manages to hear me.

"Oh God, I'm so sorry to hear that." His voice sounds pained, full of sympathy.

"Yeah, thanks."

"That's terrible. I...I can't believe you didn't tell me that," he says quietly.

"It's just not something that I like to talk about."

He nods. "Yeah, I understand. How...?" he trails off, but I know what he wants to ask.

The memories come flooding back: the crackling, red flames, the sweltering heat, the ashes, my home, Mom... There's deep ache in my chest, constricting me. It's a feeling that I know all too well – sorrow, grief.

"It was...well, you know what happened to me," I say weakly.

"Oh yeah... I didn't know it was that serious, though. Wow, that's so awful. I can't imagine what that must have been like for you," he says, voice serious. I look at his face, and his eyes are full of pity. I recall the day I met him, how he looked at me the same way.

"It was really hard. It still is, but I don't really want to talk about it," I tell him.

He's silent for a moment. He opens his mouth and then closes it again. By the look on his face, I can tell that there are a million questions he wants to ask me. I hope that one day I'll be strong enough to answer them, but right now, it's just too painful.

I'm relieved when he says, "Okay, we don't have to talk about it. So, what are you going to do now?"

As we talk, I feel myself calming down; the anger from before is quickly dissipating.

"I want to switch residences; I can't live with Luke anymore," I say honestly. I've reached my breaking point with him.

"That would probably be a good idea," Rylan agrees. "It seems like he causes you a lot of pain."

"He does...sometimes. But other times, he's nice. It's confusing; I can't figure him out. Anyway, I really don't want to go back there," I admit.

"You could stay here tonight," he says, taking me by surprise.

I stare at him blankly. "Um, what?"

"I mean to sleep," he adds quickly. "They're not strict about guests at this school, anyway."

"Yeah, but...I didn't bring anything," I offer as an excuse.

"You can borrow my stuff, and I know I have an extra toothbrush; my mom loves to over pack stuff for me."

"Oh, um..." I actually would like to stay with him. I'm just fighting it because I feel like I have to. I've been fighting this for years, trying to suppress who I am. Maybe I don't want to fight anymore...

He smiles. "We already slept in a tent together; it would be very similar. But you don't have to if you're not comfortable with it. It was just a suggestion."

I definitely want to. And the thought of running into Luke again is quite an unpleasant one.

I nod. "Okay."

"Yeah? Great." He stands up. "Are you tired now?"

I stand as well. "Not really."

He looks at me sheepishly. "Okay, well, there's actually something that I've been wanting to ask you, but maybe this isn't the right time..." he trails off.

"What is it?" I ask curiously.

He glances at me quickly, as if afraid to meet my gaze. I can tell that he's nervous, something I'm not used to seeing from him. I soon realize why.

"Are you my boyfriend?" he asks quickly.

Ah, I've been dreading this conversation. I just feel like "boyfriend" is another huge step away from that which I have been taught. It's another source of ambivalence for me because I want it, but I feel guilty for wanting it.

"Oh, um..."

He looks embarrassed, uncertain. "I mean, do you want to be? We've been going out for almost a month now – I figure we might as well call it something, right?."

"Yeah...I know." My time with Rylan has been great so far. I feel happier with him, happier than I've been in a long time.

His expression changes into a dejected one, face falling slightly. "Unless you don't want that. I'm not trying to pressure you."

"It's not that I don't want it. It's...my dad," I admit. I definitely don't want to hurt Rylan. His expression is causing me to feel regretful. If only I were more confident about this.

Rylan seems to regain some of his composure. "He can't tell you who to date, though; you're an adult. He can only exercise control over your life if you let him."

"Yeah, you're right," I agree. "He's just put so many negative thoughts in my head about this."

He smiles nervously. "Well, let me replace them with positive ones."

I sigh, unsure. Rylan has been really patient with me, even though I can tell that he wants more. I do too, but being with a guy is something that I've always been taught never to do. It's rather difficult to detach myself from those beliefs. I've realized that I need time to become accustomed to this, so that I don't panic like I did when he kissed me for the first time. It's been getting less difficult, though. When he touches me, it's easy to forget everything else. And he really is a great guy.

I want to live for myself and make my own decisions. That's part of being a strong person, which is one of my goals.

"Alright, yes," I say finally, smiling genuinely.

He looks a little surprised, but a smiles breaks out on his face as well. "Yes? You're my boyfriend?"

I nod. "Yeah, I am."

"Okay, that's great," he says before kissing me.

After that, Rylan gives me some clothes to change into and a toothbrush. I then walk over to the washroom to change before returning to his bedroom. I look around absently, before my eyes land on the bed, covered with the rumpled green comforter. I stare at it, mind wandering.

"So, how do you feel?" Rylan asks, closing the door that I had left open. I tear my eyes away from the bed and glance over at him. He looks concerned.

"Okay. I'm just trying not to think about it."

He's quiet for a moment before walking towards me, smiling. "Do you want me to distract you?"

The glint in his eyes causes my face to heat up. "How?" I ask, although I think I have a pretty good idea of what he has in mind.

In response, he leans forward and kisses me, wrapping his arms around my waist. As often is the case, my conflicting religious thoughts come to the surface, urging me to stop: my Dad's voice, the church, various bible passages. I try to shut them out, focusing my mind on Rylan who is now rubbing his hands across my back. I bring my hands up to his neck, trying to get closer.

When runs his tongue along my lower lip, I open up, allowing him to slip it into my mouth. I play with his tongue ring, rolling my tongue against the metal. I often forget that he even has his tongue pierced – until it's in my mouth, that is. I like it, though; it makes kissing him more interesting.

I feel his hands move under my shirt, and they roam across my skin, creating a trail of goosebumps. He slides them against my sides and along my back, and I revel in his touch, raking my fingers through his hair.

He breaks the kiss, and I allow him to pull the shirt up over my head. He captures my mouth again, but I soon tug at the hem of his shirt. He pauses to pull off, before discarding it onto the floor. I tentatively place my hands on his sides, feeling his ribs, the warm skin. The bare contact feels amazing.

And then, a cellphone rings, disrupting the moment. Mine is turned off, so it has to be his. He ignores it at first, but then it starts ringing again.

He pulls away and sighs. "Sorry, someone was supposed to call me."

I sigh as well, annoyed by the interruption. "Okay."

He smiles apologetically before walking over to his desk and picking up the phone, answering it. I walk over to the bed and sit down on the edge, missing his lips, his touch. He begins talking to the person on the other end.

I look at our shirts lying haphazardly on the floor, and I suddenly feel cold, so I wrap my arms around my bare chest. Rylan tries to tell the person that he's busy right now, but evidently they don't get the hint, because they're still talking. I sigh and lie back on the bed. I close my eyes and the memories of earlier come flooding back: the picture, Mom, Luke...

Ugh.

"Okay, bye." I finally hear Rylan say. I open my eyes as he turns to me. "I'm really sorry about that. She just wouldn't stop talking." He puts his cellphone down on the desk.

"It's okay."

"Are you tired?" he asks.

I shake my head. "No, I'm a little cold though."

"Use the comforter. Do you mind if I turn off the light?"

"No, go ahead," I say as I pull the comforter over me, slipping beneath it. I stretch out on my side and snuggle into the pillow – it all smells like him, and that's comforting. He turns the light off, and the room is bathed in darkness, except for the thin strips of light spilling in through the blinds on the window. He then gets in bed behind me.

"Are you going to sleep now?" he asks, yawning and running his fingertips along my arm, sending a tingling sensation down my skin.

I sigh. "I should try. I have a class in the morning."

"So do I." His hand then travels along my chest, lightly tracing circles on my skin, down my ribs, against my stomach. I feel the goosebumps begin to appear on my skin. I hold back so much with Rylan – the result of painful memories involving my father. But right now, I want this. I need it.

"Rylan..."

"Yeah?" His hand travels lower, and he stops when the tips of his fingers have just slipped beneath my pants. He slowly runs a finger across the skin there, back and forth, which is incredibly frustrating because I need more.

"Can you..." I trail off, feeling embarrassed to finish the question.

He kisses my cheek before moving his hand lower. I gasp as he cups me through the fabric of my boxers.

"Is this what you want?" he whispers into my ear, his breath hot against my skin.

"Yes." Oh God, it's nearly all I can think about right now. Usually, we just make out and grind together, but I already like this a lot better.

He leisurely strokes me through my briefs. and I move my hips a little, reveling in the intense pleasure and wanting more of it. I'm finally letting loose with him, like the leaves that I saw this morning – floating free, careless, unhindered and unconcerned with where they end up or how they gets there, just moving along for an undecided journey. And maybe it's not impossible to just be with Rylan, to be myself, to be happy.

He brings his hand back up to hook his thumb underneath the waistband of my briefs, and I shift myself to help him pull them down. Instead of doing what I expect, and so desperately want him to do, he languidly grazes his fingertips along my inner thigh. I groan inwardly, as a result of my frustration. At this point, I am aching to be touched.

I move my hand down my stomach without thinking, but he pushes it away, brushing his lips along my neck.

"No," he murmurs against my skin, causing me to shiver. God, it feels so good, and he's barely even touching me. Maybe it's the anticipation, knowing what lies ahead.

He continues running his hand along my thigh, allowing himself to get close to where I need him to be, but not going all the way. He's clearly teasing me.

"Ry...please," I whisper. I want him to do something, to touch me where I so hopelessly need to be touched.

He laughs, a soft chuckle that tickles my ear. "Impatient, are we? One sec." He kisses my earlobe and then pulls his hand away, turning in the other direction.
I'm confused and a little annoyed for a moment. He can't just stop like that. But then I hear what I presume to be Rylan pulling the drawer of his nightstand open.

He's back a few moments later, and then he finally touches me, hand slick with lube. A soft moan escapes my lips, and he brushes his mouth across my jaw as he maneuvers his hand in euphoric motions against my sensitive skin, finally giving me what I want. Any notion of guilt is now far from my mind, replaced by the blissful sensations. I forget all about the mishap that occurred earlier, the intense anger, Luke.

His body is pressed closely against mine, and he begins lightly rolling his hips, obviously seeking his own pleasure.

"Are you...comfortable like that?" I ask, feeling bad for not reciprocating – I had just been so caught up in what he's doing to me.

"I'm fine," he says against my neck.

I know he'd say that whether he's fine or not, so I turn onto my back, mouth seeking his. As we kiss, I shift onto my side, facing him, and my hand hesitantly travels down his chest. I break the kiss to look up at him, but it's hard to see his features in the dark, and I can't read his expression.

He seems to sense my hesitation. "Touch me...if you want," he says breathily. He recaptures my mouth, and I slip my hand beneath his waistband, exploring the skin there. When my hand finds its way into the heat of his underwear, he moans, the sound reverberating in my mouth. I take it as encouragement and wrap my fingers around him, mimicking his movements. I want to make him feel good, the way he's making me feel.

We move together in a satisfying rhythm, bodies seeking release. My mind is swimming in a state of euphoria. I relish in his kiss, his breath hot on my skin, his body moving against mine. I pull away from his mouth to brush my lips across his collarbone, eliciting another moan.

When I finish, the sound of pure pleasure is muffled by his skin, with his coming not too long afterwards. We breath deeply, tangled together with wetness between us.

Later on, he falls asleep before I do, with his arm draped comfortably across my side. It feels nice to be with him, to have a warm body so close to me, so intimately. I feel very relaxed, calm. For some reason, though, I can't sleep. Maybe it's because I'm not in my room.

I shift myself very slowly, so as not to wake Rylan. I turn around carefully to look at him. He appears to be sleeping peacefully, chest rising and falling evenly. I reach over and lightly run my fingers through his hair, feeling the soft strands as they slip through my fingers. I listen to the sound of his breathing.

And it hits me that he's my boyfriend now. I hadn't known if I would ever make it to this point; I'd been so afraid to venture into a relationship with a guy. I'm still somewhat apprehensive towards this, but it is what I want. And I'm finally beginning to live for myself, putting my desires before my father's demands. It feels nice, fulfilling.

And for the first time in a long time, I truly feel happy.