AUTHOR's NOTE:Hey, I'm reposting my chapters! I am new to FP and just realized I didn't have scene breaks...and I don't know how anyone was able to read or enjoy this story! In any case, I'm fixing it and hope it's smoother now.

Apologies for any errors - I edit to the best of my ability.

Please review!

Peter loved New York. It was his home, it was where he grew up, where his friends and family resided, and most of all it was where his most treasured memories of his mother were anchored. But, at this particular time, he wished he was anywhere else but.

The one thing about New York City that was really tough to deal with was the lack of privacy in any outdoor location, whether the sidewalk, or even on the subway or waiting for the bus. Surrounded by strangers, your more intimate moments could be seen by everyone- couples making out, couples groping, a man picking his nose, a teen picking at his underwear, or a girl applying makeup. Most likely they are too self-absorbed to notice someone else, but it's equally likely that they would.

In Peter's case, at this moment, people might see him crying. The steady rocking motion of the train, being packed like cattle, always triggered memories for him. Peter would be reminded of his loss, of what he could never come home to, talk to, or hug ever again. That finality ached so bad, that he could never stop the burning sensation behind his eyes. It would only be a matter of seconds before his eyes welled to the point where his vision blurred and he would have no choice but to blink and let people see his weakness. The only thing he hated more than feeling weak was letting others see it.

He had never been more grateful for the invention of sunglasses. Luckily, he always had a pair on him-in his opinion, a fashionable pair of shades always transformed one's look to the next level. Bowing his head, pretending to have something in his eye, he slipped on his sunglasses and tried hard to blank out, think of nothing, remember nothing, and feel nothing- at least until he was in the safety of his own home.

Unfortunately he wouldn't be in the safety of his own home for hours, as he had people to see, things to do, and an appearance to maintain. People needed him to be normal in order to treat him normally, and Pete was never one to disappoint. And pity was something he didn't accept.

Noticing Canal Street approaching, he stood up and waited by the doors, the feeling of competition and the sense of urgency making his body tight with adrenaline. He hated having to leave New York, even briefly. It was the one city that brought life into everyone, infused them with this need to do. No one could really sit around idly in New York, and the thought of losing that, albeit temporarily, terrified him. With time on his side, he had no idea whether he could mentally handle the death of his mother, his confidante, his best friend in the entire world who loved him unconditionally and gave him his sense of worth.

Making his way with ease and familiarity toward Taipan, he spotted two faces through the glass store front and instantly a sense of calm washed over him. Stuffing his hands into his pockets, he quickened his pace, a ghost of a smile forming on his lips.

When he was in front of them, the chatter of people ordering pastries and drinks faded in the background, no words needed to be spoken as they exchanged tight hugs, full of emotion.

Julie ran her fingers through Pete's dark brown hair affectionately, tousling the short strands before her hand was knocked away.

"Woman, my hair! This is the money maker."

She chuckled. "I thought your face was the money maker."

Pete rolled his eyes. "Julie- it's the whole package, duh." He hand swept up and down the length of his six foot frame.

Danny drew Pete's attention, holding out a bag of fruit tarts. "Hungry?"


They each took a fruit tart, taking a large bite, and chewed in silence.

"Any chance you'll Fed Ex me some of these, like, once a month?" Pete asked hopefully.

"I'm not Rockefeller," Danny rolled his eyes.

"And it'll go bad," Julie said, the ever practical one. "It's the custard."

"I'll miss it," Pete said quietly, averting his gaze, staring out the window. He loved to people watch, and it was fun to take in the droves of tourists and locals wandering by.

"I know," Danny said solemnly. "Me too."

"The two weeks went fast, huh?" Pete licked his lips of the crumbs.

"It did."

"Such a blur." Pete rubbed his face. "I don't even remember half the things I did." He gnawed on his lip. "Except burying my mom," he murmured.

Having known her friend since kindergarten, Julie recognized the nervous habit, whenever Pete lost focus, his mind taking him places she couldn't even imagine. She rubbed his shoulder soothingly, even if she knew that she, or anyone else for that matter, would never be able to comfort him. "Have you packed yet?" she asked quietly, afraid to bring up the topic, even though it loomed in the back of their minds.

Pete shook his head. "Every time I started…" he trailed off, picking at his fingers. "I have too much stuff to bring," he finished.

Danny glanced at Julie, knowing that wasn't what Pete had meant to say, but he didn't question it. "Do you want help?" he offered.

Julie nodded in agreement. "Maybe we should grab a bite first? While we're here?" she suggested.

Pete stared at them. He would be leaving in two days. This would be one of their last bonding moments, and for the first time in his life, he wasn't looking forward to it. With a resigned sigh, he straightened up. "OK." He forced a smile, stretching his shoulders, feeling his chest bone pop. His eyes glazed over, his jaw clenched in determination. "Let's do this."

He led the way out the door, his friends following behind him.

"That's the Pete we know and love, right?" Danny sighed.

Julie slung her bag over her shoulder. "Tough as ever," she commented.

"Or he pretends to be," Danny stated casually, but Julie detected the hint of concern laced beneath.

Danny held the door open for her, and in a few strides, caught up to Pete, waiting at the crosswalk.

Pete laughed- a genuine, hearty laugh- at the box of cookies in his hands; homemade sugar cookies from Julie. "When did you have time to do this?" he asked incredulously, looking at the various designs on each cookie. "It must have taken you hours."

It was a known fact that Julie loved to bake. She baked all the time—cheesecakes, cookies, brownies, cupcakes, muffins—all from scratch. She considered it both a project and a challenge, always giving them to Pete and Danny to taste test. Pete secretly wondered if she was trying to fatten him up.

Julie smiled from Pete's laptop. "It was worth it." She was inwardly pleased with his reaction. It was the first time Pete's laugh resembled its normal level of happiness and life. She turned back to the Word document and continued tapping away quickly, her fingers flying over the keyboard.

"Julie, why are you making a list when we can just pack?" Danny asked in exasperation.

"This way he doesn't forget anything," she called over her shoulder.

"Crazy lady," Danny muttered as he helped Pete pull jeans and shirts from his dresser. He focused on the clothing, so he wouldn't get emotional. "I can't believe you're leaving. Sometimes I feel like this is some shitty joke you're trying to pull on me."

"Unfortunately, it's all true."

"I don't want you to leave."

"Me neither. Do you think I want to live with a guy that I don't know? Especially a loser like him who left my mom after she told him she was pregnant?" Pete stuffed more clothes into his suitcase.

"In Texas, no less," Danny added.

"Don't remind me. Ugh, the heat, those damn accents, and all those white people! I'm going to miss diversity," Pete grumbled. "At the beginning of my senior year, no less. I'm partly pissed at my mom for making me do this, but I can't deny her something she always wanted, and never got the courage to ask me." His voice cracked before he cleared his throat and sounded normal once again. "She wants me to do this and I have to. I just have to," Pete repeated. "It won't be so bad." His voice sounded unsure to his own ears.

Danny stared in resignation and compassion in his eyes. "I know."

Pete looked at Danny with gratitude. "Thanks for helping me with the apartment and rent." He grinned. "Even if you're the biggest dodo head I've ever met. You're full Asian, you're supposed to be smart," Pete said jokingly sitting on the bed, not wanting to be bothered with packing.

"When it comes to family, I can go above and beyond." Danny stuck his nose in the air in mock haughtiness as he flopped onto the bed beside his best friend.

Pete did know. He and Danny had been friends since they were in the womb. Their mothers had been neighbors and close friends; they had grown up across the street from one another in the quiet Queens neighborhood. Most times, their families blended together for holidays or just to cook a meal together. Pete and Danny were practically brothers, the amount of time they spent all those years. Pete had lost his mother, and Danny had lost his second mother.

"Check on my grandmother and collect the rent for her at the first of the month," Pete reminded.

"Pete, I got it," Danny said calmly. "I'm not going to let you down. I'm going to take care of things until you get back."

Pete felt a familiar stinging behind his eyes and he quickly pinched the bridge of his nose. He knew he could cry in front of Danny, but he didn't want to breakdown when he was supposed to be productive and make decisions like an adult.

The unfairness of it all, besides losing his mother, and having his life, his comfort, and his familiarity stripped from him was almost unbearable. He wasn't just forced to leave them two, but his grandmother, Danny's family, and his classmates. Pete had been a popular student, and a selfish part of him didn't want to lose that, just to be a new kid, in a new environment- one that probably wouldn't welcome him with open arms. The new territory terrified him.

He didn't want to be somewhere he didn't fit. No one wanted to go from the top to the very bottom. It was going to be a hard fall and take a lot of courage to maintain his image when he felt like a tiny fish with a sea of sharks. Pete prided himself on adjusting well to new situations, but only if he had his confidence to back him up, which equated to Julie and Danny. Or at the very least, being in his home turf. That comfort alone would help him summon the courage he needed.

The worst part of leaving home was having to hide again. Most of the school knew Pete was gay. He made no secret about it. He wasn't ashamed or embarrassed. He was a damn cool person so if people didn't want to associate with him because he was gay, well, fuck them, they were surely missing out on some seriously good times. Plus, he lived in New York City. If someone was not exposed to a gay population or some form of gay culture then something was seriously wrong. It's not like they were in the Deep South, although in two more days, Pete would be that much closer to that geographical region. It made his stomach tighten up with nerves.

"I'll handle the teahouse," Julie interrupted his thoughts with a soft voice, as if speaking too loudly would break them somehow.

In addition to the multi-unit home that they rented out, Pete's mother had also owned a small, yet popular bubble teahouse. They weren't loaded, but they were comfortable due to his mother's business savvy, and basically borrowing money from every friend and living relative on the planet to get a down payment.

"You two are the best," Pete stated. "No question, no contest."

"All done," Julie announced. Seconds later, they heard the sound of the printer. "I don't want you calling us and crying on the phone about how you left something home." She literally jumped on top of them, chuckling at their collective grunts as they adjusted to a third person on Pete's bed. They wiggled around and Pete let out a groan of pain as Julie's elbow dug painfully into his crotch.

"Oops, sorry, hope I didn't damage the goods," she said giggling.

"Holy shit!" Pete squeezed his eyes shut, his hands going to his groin. "Why are your elbows so damn bony?" He glared at Danny through narrowed slits. "You wouldn't be laughing if your goods had gotten prodded with the boniest elbow in all of New York. Felt like I was getting cut," Pete huffed. "I wasn't planning on having kids since I'm gay and all, so what the hell? Bring on the sterility!"

"Always the drama queen," Julie rolled her eyes.

"I should take a picture of these cookies," Pete said absent-mindedly going through the box. He handed her the cookie that read "love you" and tossed Danny the one that read "miss you".

"I could always bake more stuff and ship it to you. If you put a slice of bread in the box of cookies, it should prevent them from going bad."

"Worth a shot."

They sat in a comfortable silence, munching on the cookies Julie baked, reveling in the company until their time together was up.

Pete was exhausted. Time was going too fast. There was no way he could slow it down, and that agitated him to no end. He didn't want to leave and the bitterness in his chest and gut made it hard to breathe.

In the last two to three weeks, he had had to say goodbye to his mother at the hospital, the image haunting him in his sleep, attend the estate reading, plan the wake, and funeral service, plus packing, he was running on empty.

Having to pretend he was "fine" was draining. Between having to explain that he would keep in touch with everyone, along with thanking everyone who attended his mother's wake, funeral service or offered their condolences, his throat was dry, his head was spinning, and a cold numbness had settled over him. Everything, his skull, forehead, and face ached with tension.

Two hours until his flight, he was desperately trying to stuff one more pair of sneakers into his suitcase. Pete loved his sneakers; it was a crucial component of his urban, city style that he wanted to keep when he was living in unfamiliar territory. Pete was currently not winning the epic battle between shoe and luggage. "Come on you stupid shoe!" he yelled as he pounded the shoe into the suitcase. His temper was beginning to show, face growing red, his breaths shallow.

Julie pushed Pete aside. "Here, let me," she said frowning. She opened the entire suitcase and rearranged the shoes, calmly, and precisely. She successfully managed to find a space to fit in the last pair. "There."

Pete sighed and rubbed his brow. "Thanks." He pulled her into a hug, squeezing tightly which Danny soon jumped in on. "I'll miss you guys so much," he said into their shoulders not wanting to let go.

"I'll miss you, too," Julie said. Her shaky, thick voice gave away the fact that she was crying.

"Don't worry Julie. We'll make sure to keep in touch with him. He can't escape us," Danny said squeezing them tighter. "Not even if he tried."

"You know it, Danny boy," Pete's voice took on its usual cocky undertone, laced with confidence and subtle sarcasm. "With the built in web cam on our laptops, cell phones, email, and instant messaging, it will be like I never left." He swiped at his eyes, trying to convince himself that nothing would change.

Loading up the car was a depressing activity, almost done in slow motion, with the time ticking in the back of their mind. The sadness was oppressive in the air; it was one step closer to goodbye. The drive to the airport was both long and short, tense, silent, but at the same time, the silence was deafening. Danny also drove unusually slower.

All too soon they had arrived at passenger drop off. Danny double parked. The flurry of activity as other passengers hurriedly milled around, getting their bags, giving parting hugs reminded them that they could not take their time- Pete had to go, he was on a deadline. Pete got out of the car, his body heavy and went towards the trunk. Danny followed and helped pull out the luggage and set them on the ground.

Pete turned to his grandmother first, her glassy eyes mirroring his own. "I love you, and I'll call you," he promised speaking Cantonese. "If you need anything, go and ask Danny, OK? Be careful." She nodded, her wrinkles more pronounced with her lips and eye turned downward in a frown. She hugged her only grandson tightly.

When he pulled away, she held onto his arms tightly, betraying her fragile age, looking into his eyes. "You are a good boy. My daughter is proud. I know it." Their eyes met; they were mirror images of grief and anger, one dealing with the premature loss of a daughter, the other dealing with the premature loss of a mother. He swallowed the lump in his throat and moved in to hug her again, this time longer.

Danny stared at the ground, his hands stuck in his jeans, his body appearing tense. Pete playfully rubbed my hand over his shaved head, and Danny finally looked up, his eyes so sad, Pete's heart broke. Of all people Danny would miss Pete the most. They had classes and ate lunch together. They did their homework together, got in trouble and played pranks together. They ate out after school together, took the train to Chinatown to hang out and eat or shop. They had coffee at Starbucks or bubble tea, and shot the shit, talked about the future and what they wanted to accomplish in life. There was no way to say goodbye to him, so Pete refused to. "I'll see you at the end of the school year."

He kissed Julie's cheek as he hugged her, inhaling her scent, the memories of their childhood rushing to him. Slipping his bag onto his shoulders, and grabbing a suitcase handle in each hand he walked through the doors, allowing himself one look behind before continuing on his way. He felt their eyes on his back. Pete had to use every bit of willpower to resist the urge to run to them.

After checking in his luggage and getting past security, he slowly walked to the gate, and took a seat in the waiting area. Headphones helped tune out all other noise and people talking happily; he was in no mood to watch families converse. He willed himself not to cry, but he came pretty damn close when he started daydreaming about coming back to New York and all the future plans Danny and him had made. It was Pete's only silver lining.

Needing a form of reassurance, a form of courage, he fished out the letter his mother had written, which was given to him by their family's lawyer. It was her attempt at an explanation. It didn't offer much, but as long as he was able to remind himself of his mother's wishes, he knew he could do anything, for the woman who sacrificed her entire life for him.

To my baby, Pete,

If you're reading this then that meant something happened to me before you turned eighteen and I have to explain some of the choices I put into my will;

I want you to live with your father. I want you to get a chance to know him. I know that the first chance you get, you'll leave and come back home, but at least you would have had the chance to talk to him and maybe forgive him after all these years. I hated seeing you so sad and bitter all these years over not having a father around. I don't want you to keep all this hate in you for the rest of your life. I knew I couldn't force you to go visit your father before because you are such a stubborn child, but I am hoping you will honor my wishes.

I set up everything for you. When you decide to return back home, you will have full rights to the apartments, the teahouse, the cars, and enough money to live comfortably while you go to college. I want you to have a good life and make something of yourself because you're a wonderful child. I am sorry I won't be around to see it happen, but I'll be watching you. I love you and I hope you are not angry with me. He is a good man that I once loved so much…but as we know, life does not work out how we want it to. Sometimes, circumstances gets in the way, and just like when I had you, I had to adjust accordingly. Now, you have to do the same.

Be respectful and listen to your grandmother.

With love,


Discreetly wiping at his eyes, he noticed the commotion a half hour later and realized the plane was boarding. With a loud inward sigh, he forced himself into a standing position and got out his boarding pass. "You can do this, you can do this," he muttered to himself as he inched forward along the line. "You have no choice. You can do this. Don't be a whiny bitch." A small boy caught his last word, and Pete looked away sheepishly.

Once sitting in the too small seat, he folded his arms and rested his head against the window, making sure to pull down the shade. He closed his eyes hoping sleep would come easy to him. Maybe when he woke up his mother would be alive again and he'd be back in his comfortable apartment in Queens. Maybe none of this was real.

That futile hope somehow eased the pain of having to succumb to family duty rather than following his instinct of wanting to run in fear of the unknown, and what he might be up against with the father that was a complete stranger.

The car ride was uncomfortable, but that was expected, as was the silence and tension.

Pete felt the muscles in the base of his neck forming knots as he sat hunched in his seat, gripping his shoulder bag tightly, as if it would give him strength. His fingers were starting to go dumb. He didn't want to look at David, so he stared out the window. He couldn't help wrinkling his nose at the expanse of land; it was just everywhere. He couldn't spot a sidewalk for ages. He couldn't remember the last time he had seen so much open space, land, and greenery other than a designated park.

He wished they were out of the car already; he couldn't stand the feeling of David's eyes on him, glancing at him furtively with an unreadable expression on the man's face.

Pete hated to admit it, but there was an obvious resemblance between the two of them. Although, deep down he knew a majority of his features were inherited from his father- Pete was much taller than his petite mother, and had larger, sharper, and more angular facial features- a big part of him wished he looked a lot more like his mother, in order to keep more of her with him. He wanted to see her when he looked in the mirror.

David, in his honest opinion, was nothing special. He was, well, average: short brown hair and light, almost hazel brown eyes. His features were handsome and strong enough; Pete could see that they shared the long nose, high cheekbones, and subtle, yet prominent arch of the brow. Pete still thought his mother could have done better. Obviously they hadn't shared the same taste in men.

"Uh, are you ready to go?"

Pete snapped his head in David's direction, surprised that they were no longer driving, but were parked in a spacious driveway. He stared at the large double blue doors in front of him, and the gleaming white porch, as if it had been freshly painted. He blinked dumbly, before composing his features into a neutral expression. "Sure."

David started lifting the suitcases from the trunk and began wheeling it to the front door, lifting them up the steps with ease. Pete smirked; at least he had his own bell boy.

The house was big and there was so much yard space. What a change from the narrow apartments or multi-units he was accustomed to. There was a garden in front of the porch with bright flowers and Pete had to admit begrudgingly that it was cute. He didn't want to like anything here. This was going to be akin to a prison stay- he had to do his time until he was eighteen and get the hell back to New York.

Realizing David had disappeared through the door, Pete followed suit. But he couldn't bring himself to cross the threshold. It would make the whole thing too real. His leg felt abnormally heavy. "Fuck," he whispered. "Come on, Peter, you can do this."

"Peter?" David called out.

"I'm coming!" Pete called back, trying to not let his irritation show. Didn't David realizing Pete was doing everything he could to propel himself inside the house. "Get inside, bitch," he hissed to himself. His eyes stung again, remembering why he was going through this; he was doing this as a last request from his deceased mother, her life stolen from her too soon. Pete was going to do this. Taking one large step, he inhaled then exhaled as his foot came into contact with the shiny wooden floor on the opposite side. Immediately he was hit with the aroma of a buttery, fried aroma, thick and rich in the air. It smelled good even if it wasn't exactly Pete's accustomed tastes.

David had left his bags in the hallway near the stairs and motioned for Pete to come into the kitchen. It was apparent that David had a family, or guests visiting. Pete didn't really want to deal with so many people; David was enough to get adjusted to. Belatedly, Pete realized that David might have had a wife and kids. It had never occurred to him to ask, or find out that information from the lawyer. If it had crossed his mind, it was only fleeting, as Pete had been consumed with so many other things in that short time frame.


Pete hesitated then took a deep breath. He entered the kitchen…and was met with a pretty blond woman, with very thick, coiffed, and puffy blond hair. It looked like she used too much hairspray to keep it in place. He fought hard to keep his facial muscles relaxed. He didn't know whether to grimace or burst out laughing. As a gay man, he was awfully tempted to take a bottle of water, a comb, a curling iron, blow dryer and get to work making her look more natural.

She turned around and Pete instantly felt something cold and blank about her, in spite of her white teeth, bright blue eyes, and wide, sunny smile. He wouldn't be fooled by an attractive exterior. He could sense someone who didn't like him or want him around, and Kelly clearly was both of those things.

She smiled broadly and stretched out her hand. "Hi," she said her accent heavy and drawled, "I'm Kelly." Her teeth were extremely white, and Pete could see the superficiality dripping off her. She must bleach her teeth.

Pete made the effort to curl his lips into something resembling a smile, and shook her hand firmly in return. "Peter Liu."

She took a step back and seemed surprised that his last name wasn't the same as David's. Pete had idea why she was so shocked. A woman who paid for a sperm donation wouldn't take some random guy's last name. "I hope you're hungry. You should be after the long flight," she said pasting that smile on again. She was polite and had manners, Pete had to give her that. But he was willing to play that game. This was all a game; how well he could survive the long year ahead of him, unscathed from Southern hell and all their bigotry, racism, and homophobic church values.

"I am; thank you." Pete sat in the chair that David pointed at.

There were five place settings in total, so David and Kelly had to have at least two kids together. Pete supposed at some point David had found a woman worthy of sticking around. His eyes narrowed bitterly and he sent a nasty look David's way. What was wrong with his mother? She was a genuine woman, not some fake plastic Barbie doll.

Kelly placed a large platter of chicken in the center of the table and reached for a pitcher of iced tea. She turned in the direction of the hallway and called out in a high pitched voice, "Boys! Lunch is ready!"

Pete really hoped that he didn't have to share a room with his step-brothers. The house was big, so he doubted he would, but a lot of shit was being thrown his way, and he couldn't bank on anything working in his favor.

Loud pounding of footsteps rang out, before two distinct stomps on the platform landing sounded out, and finally and entered two tall blond guys around Pete's age.

"Whoa, stereotypes," Pete smirked under his breath. This was classic. He couldn't wait to call Danny and Julie. It was like being in the twilight zone. "Ken doll one, and ken doll two."

David glanced at Pete, catching his eye. Pete realized David had heard his comment. They stared at one another, before Pete shrugged unapologetically. Could he be faulted for stating the obvious truth?

Both were blond, probably around Pete's height; it was hard to tell from Pete's sitting position. They obviously hit up the gym or played football, with their broad, bulky shoulders, tight tapered waists, and muscular arms. Pete knew he had his own subtle strength, but he did feel a bit wimpy in comparison at that very moment. But back home, with Asian folks in Queens or Chinatown, and white and black hipsters running around Brooklyn and Manhattan with skinny jeans, Pete fit right in.

Upon closer inspection, one had blue eyes and the other had a greenish brown color, the other major difference was that one had a large sprinkling of freckles over his nose. They might have resembled Ken dolls, but they were good looking for a pair of Ken dolls. If anything, maybe he would enjoy some eye candy while here, although blonds weren't necessarily his type, if he even had a type, that is.

The two idiots didn't even realize they had a guest; their eyes immediately went to the food as they sat down. A second later, Pete was on the receiving end of two curious pairs of eyes. His eyes darted left and right, subconsciously seeking help from Kelly or David. He lifted his hand and waved awkwardly. "Hey."

"Guys, this is Peter Liu," David said taking charge of the situation. "Peter this is our son Blair and his best friend Grant," David introduced.

Pete initially had trouble telling who was whom since David didn't outright point to each when he said their names. People said all Asians looked alike; in all racial fairness Pete personally thought that all white people looked alike. Both couldn't stop staring; especially the one Pete assumed to be Grant.

"Take a picture, it lasts longer," Pete remarked automatically, his mouth working on its own accord.

David looked up from his plate in shock, Kelly shot Pete a cold disapproving look, Blair looked a little put off, and Grant smiled in amusement.

"Where am I supposed to get a camera?" Blair replied smartly. He held his hands out. "We're eating."

Pete always rose to a challenge, and that sense of competition and adrenaline riled him up, his posture straightening. "Well that's easy, buddy." He grinned and dug into his pocket whipping out his cell phone. "8 pixels," Pete pointed out. "Going to capture all of this," he waved a circle around his face. "There you go. Got to love technology, right?"

Grant covered his mouth, masking a chuckle. Blair shot his friend a dirty look. It amused Pete how fast Grant got rid of his smile. It was clear who was the follower in that friendship.

Pete felt a prickling sensation on his cheek and turned to see Blair's stony stare his way. Pete faced forward, realizing was what going on: a staring contest. Pete owned staring contests. His trick- to make his mind go blank, make his eyesight go blank; no thought into the whole thing, pure relaxation of his facial muscles. His eyes would go a bit dry, Pete had to admit, but no pain no gain. It was all about bragging rights in the end. He sensed Blair was going to cave, the forced widening of the eyes was a telltale sign.

Blink. Pete smiled triumphantly. The little wins in life really did count.

Kelly cleared her throat. "Let's say Grace," she said reaching out for Pete's hand, leaving no room for argument.

Taking her hand and David's, he looked around the kitchen, peering up at the ceiling at one point. When the prayer was coming to an end, Pete dropped his eyes back to the table, noticing Grant peeking at him. As soon as Pete caught his gaze, Grant immediately squeezed his eyes shut and bent his head down.

Pete snorted. Did these people never see an Asian person before? Or was he that gorgeous?

He was betting on the latter.

Once Kelly finished talking, everyone grabbed for food. Glasses were filled with iced tea. Everyone piled their plates with fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and corn. Pete took food, but on a much smaller scale than everyone else.

"Not hungry?" Kelly asked.

"Tired and hard to force myself to eat."

"You should; you're really skinny," Blair commented snidely.

"I'm used to eating different food," Pete elaborated when David's concerned look became too much to bear.

"What kinds of food do you eat then?" Blair asked. It was an innocent and normal question, except for his condescending tone.

Pete leaned backwards in his chair. "Oh well I eat pigskin, cows stomach, fish eyes, oh and cat is my favorite, although I haven't eaten that lately. All the strays seemed to have disappeared so I guess we're a bit low on supply. I heard we're moving onto stray dogs now, FYI. It's called backdoor meat, basically grabbing a stray dog from the alley." Pete shrugged. "We're a resourceful people."

If this were a movie Pete would have been listening to a cricket sound track right about now. Everyone was in shock and gawking at Pete, with a mixture of disgust and intrigue, even Blair. Well, Kelly appeared as if she was about to throw up. Bonus points for Pete. He felt a tickle of laughter in his throat that he managed to swallow.

Grant broke the silence. "You really eat that?" he asked uncertainly. Pete stilled for a moment, letting the deep tone of his voice wash over him. There was something very masculine, yet soothing about Grant's voice.

Pete gave him a small genuine smile. "No, I don't."

Everyone looked a little relieved. David smiled slightly.

"Then what do you eat?" Grant asked curiously. He was the least annoying of the bunch, after David, because he actually seemed sincere.

"Fried rice, noodles, white rice, vegetables, that stuff," he said. "Normal food."

"This is normal food," Blair said emphatically. "Not that ethnic shit."

"Language, Blair!" Kelly snapped.

Pete's nostrils flared, his jaw tightening. He sat up a little straighter. David glanced at him worriedly.

"Normal food for Chinese people," Pete clarified.

"Yeah, for Chinese people," Blair shot back. "We're not in China, you know." He rolled his eyes.

"Blair," Kelly said in a warning tone.

"You play any sports?" Grant asked. Blair shot him a funny look, probably not liking the idea of his minion conversing with the enemy.

"No," Pete replied shortly. "I have better things to do, like use my brain to add numbers up."

Kelly huffed with her mouth closed. Pete looked up in time to see her and David exchanging a glance. Her grip on her fork was tight, and Pete had no doubt she was tempted to stab him in the eye with it. He had a feeling he was ruining their perfect family dinner.

"Eat, before it gets cold," Kelly commanded. "Blair, Grant. Now!"

Blair made a face, pursing his lips at Pete before shoving a large forkful of food into his mouth. Pretty soon everyone else followed suit.

Pete's shoulders slumped in relief. He didn't always enjoy being the center of attention. He loved to rise to the occasion and accept a challenge, but didn't revel in feeling like an outsider, and scrutinized as such.

He slowly ran his fork through the potatoes, not really in the mood to eat. More than anything he wanted to hide in his room and call Danny and Julie. He had seen them a few hours ago but he desperately missed them already. As everyone ate, they engaged in idle conversation, more or less ignoring Pete, which he was grateful for. He wasn't a little kid and didn't need to be drawn out of his shell. At least David was able to pick up on those vibes.

Wiping his mouth one last time, David shifted in his chair. He turned to Pete. "Come on, let me show you to your room," he said. "You might want to unpack or rest a little. Or maybe a shower?"

"Maybe," Pete answered abruptly, feeling familiar agitation creeping into him again.

Blair and Kelly didn't say anything when they departed, but Grant called out a "Later, Pete."

Pete raised his brow in surprise, halting in the doorway for a split second before waving his hand in response.

He could have hugged David. He was grateful. He didn't have to share a bedroom was the big positive. The big negative was that he and Blair shared a bathroom, which connected their rooms. He couldn't have it all, otherwise how would life remain unfair?

For some reason Pete felt compelled to offer David a smile because the grown man still looked apprehensive and that mutual, shared anxiety comforted Pete. "This is a nice room."

David visibly brightened. "Glad you like it. It's our guest room, but unofficially it's Grant's room whenever he sleeps over. I'll let you get unpacked and settled in. Maybe afterwards I can show you around?" he asked.

The emotional side of Pete wanted nothing more than to hole up and call his friends and grandmother. The rational, street smart side of him wanted to become familiar with the town. It would be strategic to know the ins and outs of the area. An emergency escape route was just smart- what if a mob came after him carrying torches?

He completed the the tedious task of hanging up his pants, jeans, shirts, and sweaters, before organizing a few pairs of his favorite sneakers beside the closet. The rest remained in his suitcase, a constant reminder that this whole thing, the move to Texas was only permanent. At any given moment, he could pack up and leave. That was his "out" and he needed to have that safety net in case he totally lost it.

Now for his lifeline- he FaceTimed Danny. He waited impatiently, tapping his foot. When he finally saw his friend's face he broke out into a huge grin.

"Pete!" Danny exclaimed grinning from ear to ear. "How's everything? How was your flight? What's your dad like?" he burst out in one sentence, not taking a breath.

"Calm down Danny. One question at a time," Pete laughed. "The flight was uneventful. I slept through the entirety of it. David seems nice enough, but kind of uncomfortable around me. The house is big but…is a place to sleep; it's not my home. What else? Oh, the stepmother is a fake high maintenance ho' and hates me, and the stepbrother is an ass. But we have separate rooms."

"He has a family?" Danny asked a little surprised. "I didn't expect that for some reason," he hummed.

"I want to come home."

"Me too," Danny said then smiled. "You know what I mean." He paused. "How are you?" he asked seriously.

"I need to get used to all this and I'm really afraid that I might not be able to fulfill my mother's last wish…and that bothers me."

"Pete," Danny began. "You'd do anything for your mother. You did do everything for your mother. If anyone knows sacrifice, it's you. You may not believe in yourself, but I have complete faith in you."

Pete mulled over his friend's words but didn't have a response.

"Are you starting school Monday?" Danny kept the conversation from stalling or going to a dark place.

"Yeah, not looking forward to that either; being the new kid sucks."

"They'll love you," Danny said confidently.

"I don't think so, Danny. The people aren't the same as in New York, you know. I wasn't even welcomed in my new home."

"Yeah, I know but I figured it was my duty as your best friend to offer words of encouragement," Danny said. "Even if they were flat out lies."

"True, true. How's Julie doing?" Pete asked suddenly.

"She's doing the whole arguing with her mom thing about what college to go to. She already filled out an application for UCLA."

"Wow," Pete raised his eyebrows. "I knew she wanted to do it, but she actually did it. A part of me always thought she'd cave under the pressure from her mom. You know how her mom is."

Danny and Pete shared a simultaneous shudder. "If she does somehow go there it will be weird to imagine life without her for four years," Danny said.

"At least we got each other," Pete pointed out.

Danny immediately cheered up. They both planned to apply to NYU and planned to get accepted, then dorm together and continue their happy bubble of best friendship.

"What else-" Pete was interrupted mid-sentence by the shrill sound of Danny's mother in the background calling out to him in Chinese. "Make yourself useful and go buy these groceries for dinner tonight!"

"Ma, I'm talking to Pete!"

"We can call Pete later! Go now!"

Danny groaned. "I gotta go man. Email me or call me later," he said. "It was great to hear from you."

Pete sighed, feeling lonely once again. He selfishly wanted his friend's attention to be at his beck and call, to help him through this dark time. Instead he settled for music. As it played in the background, he plopped onto the bed. Lacing his fingers behind his head, he laid down and allowed himself to sink into the softness of the pillows and blankets. His eyes fluttered closed. He thought he had slept enough on the plane, but within minutes his entire body felt like lead, heavy and sluggish.

He dreamt of his mother. Unlike most kids his age, he had a really good relationship with the woman. She wasn't your typical mom, that's for sure. For one thing, she had Pete when she was twenty-two so she wasn't that old. Only thirty-nine when she died, the fact that she died young caused pain to radiate in his stomach and chest, only to erupt in the form of a choked, strangled sob. She had so many things to see, and all those moments were stolen from her prematurely. When Pete thought of her life- full of long days and nights at the teahouse in order to make ends meet so Pete could have a stable and successful future, made his throat swell with regret. She never even had a chance to get remarried or date much, at least as far as Pete could recall. She always seemed happy though; Pete had been fulfilling enough for her. That rationalizing didn't make Pete feel any better. He still felt a sense of injustice that she had died too early.

All he could think of was the missed opportunity, of time wasted with petty arguments and fights, hours, days, and years he could never get back. He wanted to go back in time and slap his younger self, to cherish the time he did have with his mother back then, because the future had never been a guarantee, like he used to believe. He had been naïve. His mother had wanted to take a long summer trip abroad to celebrate his high school graduation before he went off to college. While she had never voiced it, he knew his mother had been sad about her son growing up, inevitably to leave her one day for his own life, independent of hers.

A tear trickled down his cheek, tickling his face as he squeezed his eyes shut, hoping the memories would go away, that his mind would blank once again. The vision of her smiling the last time he had seen her in the hospital, in spite of the threat of death looming impossibly close entered his mind, and stayed put.

Pete drifted off to sleep, his pillow case stained with fresh tears.


He rolled over and covered his face.

"Pete." This was accompanied by a shoulder shake.

"Mom, I'm gonna skip today," he mumbled tugging the blankets up around his neck. "Call out for me?" he yawned sleepily.

"Pete!" the voice said more loudly. "Peter!"

He turned over and opened his eyes to see David standing above him. That jolted Pete.

He shot up, nearly falling off the bed in the process. "What?" He blinked in alarm, looking at his surroundings, feeling panicked that nothing looked familiar. His heart pounded as he remembered where he was. His shoulders slumped. Remembering wasn't so good. He wiped at the tear stains on his face, feeling caked up and stiff. He felt dizzy from waking up so fast. He inhaled deeply through his nostrils, closing his eyes.

"Nothing," David said sitting back. "I came to see how you were doing and I didn't realize you had fallen asleep."

"What time is it?" Pete asked cracking his neck loudly. David winced at the loud sound.

"Five," he answered.

"I slept that long!"

"You must be tired," David commented.

"Jet lag, I guess."

"Are you up for exploring a bit? We have about an hour until dinner," David said.

He looked at David indifferently, purposely keeping his expression and voice neutral. "Is there really anything special to see?"

David frowned. "Well, there are some local spots, like the mall, bowling alley, grocery store, in case you ever want to go there. We have a spare car you can borrow. Blair will share."

Pete bit back a snort. Blondie would no doubt love that. "I don't know how to drive. Or a license, for that matter."

David looked at him in disbelief. "You're kidding?"

Pete folded his arms. "Everything is a train stop away, or a bus, or a taxi, or using our feet to get from point A to point B. So many ways in the big city."

David nodded. "That makes sense." He cocked his head thoughtfully. "I'm surprised though. Your mother loved to drive, even in the crowded city. She found it exciting. She didn't want to teach you?"

Pete could tell that David was really talking to himself, the words soft and murmured, but it still pissed him off. What right did David have to reminisce with Pete about his own dead mother who David had abandoned?

"Life got in the way," Pete snapped. "Getting sick kind of consumed most of her time. Just another thing she never got around to," he choked out, emotion welling in his chest. "Now those cars are sitting at the back of our house, going to waste. I guess I will just have to sell them!" The outburst both hurt and felt good. It felt good to lash out at David, because the man was around, and he was someone easy to blame.

David opened his mouth, alarm in his eyes. He took a step closer, his hands out. Pete had no idea what David was intending to do. The thought of a hug made him panicked. He abruptly switched course, not willing to be comforted or to delve into anything related to his mother. "OK, I'll go. Let's go see…stuff." He was groggy and his heart and limbs felt heavy with sadness, the memories of his mother still lingering. Maybe getting out of that house would be a good thing. He was already descending the stairs by the time David snapped out of it and followed suit, his long legs moving quickly.

As David had said, they drove by fast food places, grocery stores, bowling alley, shopping centers, and a mall. They detoured to the school he would be attending on Monday.

David played tour guide while Pete stared out the window wishing he was in the city. No doubt the city would be filled with tons of people knocking each other out of the way, and the bright lights of Times Square making it seem like daylight when it was really three in the morning, or Chinatown smelling like a combination of cigarettes, street food, stale piss from a bum or a drunken excursion, and fish from the markets.

Finally, David got to the point, the words tumbling out through a thick whoosh of air. "Pete, I don't know what your mother told you about me," he began.

That knocked Pete out of his little daydream about New York. A flash of rebellion and aggression washed over him again, as loyalty towards his dead mother stirred in his chest. He sat up straight, preparing for his speech. The one that he had been preparing in his head for the last two weeks. "Sperm donor."

"What?" David asked, clearly shocked as he veered out of his lane. A loud honk had him jerking the wheel straight

Pete discreetly placed his hand over his mouth to mask his chuckle. "She said she met you in college and you stayed together the four years. She got pregnant senior year. She wanted you to stay, be with her, raise me, but you ended going back to Texas. Apparently the city life, and my mother, wasn't for you," he stated matter of fact.

David cringed, his fingers tightening on the wheel before he took a breath. "We did meet in college and I did get her pregnant senior year, but I didn't just leave. We had been having problems and what we wanted to do in our futures, and well, we weren't on the same page. We had always known that, even before getting into a relationship. She thought I would change my mind, but I knew New York wasn't for me," he tried to explain.

"Like I said, you left."

"Look," David said beginning to sound a little frustrated. "It's not…"

Pete couldn't take it anymore. He thought he was going to burst into tears, at the mere image of his mother begging and trying to reason with this man to stay with her, help her raise their child, only to be refused, shunned, and left behind.

Swallowing hard, he ground his teeth to make his voice even and stable, no hint of emotion, because David didn't deserve that from him. "You know David, we don't have to do this. You might feel the need to explain yourself, but it doesn't really matter to me. I'm here because my mom wanted me to be here- for whatever reason- and once I finish school, I'm done. I have a great life back home with great people and I'm very eager to get back to that life," he stated calmly with a neutral expression.

David opened his mouth a few times to say something, but no words came out.

"I'm not looking for answers and I'm not upset." That was a lie. Pete was upset but he didn't feel like voicing his true feelings. He wanted the months to fly by so he could go back to New York. The best way to do that was by not rocking the boat; it would be easier for him to mentally survive, perhaps physically too. It was a passive aggressive tactic, but Pete was a man of strategy. "So don't get all bent out of shape," he finished. He clenched his jaw defiantly.

David looked uncertain and appeared as if he wanted to say more, but they had arrived at the house. Pete jumped out of the car, causing David to brake suddenly. He had been dangerously close to doing a tuck and roll out of a moving vehicle, albeit a slow moving vehicle. "Thanks for the tour," he said and walked to the door and waited for him to unlock it. "I might need a set of keys to the house." It probably wasn't the best thing to say, but he had nothing else.

David nodded. "Right."

Running up to his room, ignoring Kelly's voice, he locked the door and quickly locked the adjoining bathroom.

He found it hard to breathe, his chest constricting painfully, creating a dull ache that slowly grew into a sharp pang that threatened to erupt from his throat. He clamped a hand over his mouth to keep the cries quiet, as tremors racked his shoulders before traveling through his torso. It became hard to stand. He sank to the carpet, his back against the wall, his hands shaking as he clawed at the wall, wanting to dig into something, his fingers becoming tight with tension.

A small sob escaped him. He ground his teeth together as he cried silently, the pressure of trying to keep his pain to himself overwhelming, but he refused to accept comfort and pity from anyone, especially these strangers that he was forced to live with.

Desperately inhaling through his nostrils, he tried to compose himself. He needed to compose himself. Digging into his pocket, he retrieved his cell phone. It took him several tries before he managed to pull up the pictures. He instantly zoned in on one of them: his mother wearing a bright magenta sweater- she always liked bright colors- the hood pulled over her head, covering her short black hair after it had grown back. She was holding a pineapple. What struck him was her radiant smile, wide, genuinely happy, even though she was still undergoing chemo. For someone so petite, she had more internal strength than anyone he knew, including himself.

He gagged, dry heaving as he hunched onto the carpet on his hands and knees, snot trickling down his nose. He whimpered as he collapsed onto the floor, the plush carpet soothing on his back. He gulped in air through his mouth, staring at the ceiling blankly. "Why didn't you take me with you? Why didn't you take me with you?" he whispered.

He loved his life, he loved his friends, he loved his family, but without his mother, he didn't feel like himself anymore. He didn't feel confident and secure like he used to. Half of him had died and he wasn't entirely sure he could survive without her. A part of him wished that he had died with her, as she gasped her last breath after she was taken off the breathing tube.

He was crying over the realization that he would never be able to see his mother every day, to joke around with, to ask her advice, or watch lame movies or television shows.

He was crying over what he would never be able to get back. He wasn't sure he would ever be able to wrap his head around that.

And yet, all he could tell himself, albeit weakly was, "You can do this." Maybe if he said it enough, he would believe it.

What do you think so far? Is Pete a character you can connect with?