Lighthouse Gone Out

Mini Book Two

Of

Jade Leeman's Story

Chapter One

Remains

Jade Leeman looked as if he were dead. He lay on the bed in his hotel room with one arm covering his face and the other draping off the side of the bed. There was a sheet covering him, the blanket was on the floor beside an assortment of pillows Jade had decided he didn't want. The darkened room smelled faintly of blood, but there was no telling where that scent came from.

Still, as Amber Kakaya walked slowly into the room, she knew that Jade was both alive and awake. She walked up to his bed with something in her hand, and then, as she reached his side, she pulled his arm away from his face. "Don't spit it out," she commanded and then pressed a pill into Jade's mouth.

The teenager looked up questioningly at her through the darkness.

"You have water somewhere?" Amber asked.

Jade sat up slowly, revealing his tee-shirt was soaked in sweat, and pointed to an unopened water bottle standing on the windowsill.

Amber got it for him, opened it, and then handed it to him. Jade swallowed the pill and then looked up at her again. "What is it?" he asked in a toneless voice.

"Something to help you sleep," Amber answered. She picked up one of the pillows from the floor and then sat down on Jade's bed, wrapping her arms around the pillow.

"What about you?" Jade asked in the same drained voice. "You can't sleep either?"

Amber glanced at him. "Na, but I'm not really tired, either." She reached out and took the water bottle from Jade's hand and re-capped it.

"What time is it?" Jade asked, glancing toward the window. A pale moon reflected in through the translucent curtains.

"Nearly one, now, I think," Amber answered. "Have you slept at all?"

Jade shook his head.

"You getting sick?" Amber asked.

"No…" Jade said. He leaned back slowly.

"Stressed out, then?" Amber guessed.

Jade glanced at her, but didn't answer.

"Because of the show tomorrow night or because of something else?"

"I don't know…" Jade sighed. "I guess I've just been thinking about home a lot…"

"Jade, don't let this mess you up tomorrow night," Amber warned.

"It won't," Jade promised. "I'll do my best, ok?"

"Good, and you can take another pill beforehand too. That ought to help you. And another thing, I want to get you signed in so you can start getting your own stuff," Amber said.

"Yeah…yeah, I can do that…just tell me how…" Jade muttered, but it sounded as if he was already falling asleep.

Jade was a strange creature, Amber knew as she stared at his pretty face. He got stressed out so often, yet he never liked to say a word about it. He never spoke to anyone about the way he was feeling and he always kept his secrets to himself. He had friends, but the way he got so stressed out over them, it seemed they were always more of a pain than a help. He was completely alone, and sometimes it made her feel sorry for him. But he was also strangely aggravating. He was extremely attractive, and he didn't know it. She had liked him since she had first met him, she had always carried a semi-crush on him, and yet he assumed that everyone around him hated him. He messed up over the silliest things and then did the impossible without hesitation. And he hated his family and stressed over his family, yet he never left them.

Amber smiled slightly in the darkness. Then, silently, she got up and left the room.

Dawn found Jade still asleep. He had had a very rough night. When he finally did wake up, it was nearly noon. The sun was shining in through the window, and to anyone else but Jade, the fine furniture of the hotel room might have made quite a pleasant sight. But to Jade, all it meant was he was on another Eclipse tour and that night he would have to be in the first performance of the tour which was usually the one the others were pickiest about.

Jade put his head back down and stared at the wall for a long while. But he couldn't stop it from coming. That night, like it or not, he would have to perform. Usually when Jade had been extremely stressed for a long time, performing on stage could be as lifting as getting high—or better, because it was more real than getting high. Still, Jade feared that he might make a mistake and then after the show, he would suffer the consequences.

However, Jade's thoughts were cut short suddenly when there was a knock on his door. Quickly, Jade sat up and with his hand running through his hair to straighten it out, he stood up.

He walked over to his door and pulled it open with a jerk of his arm. To his surprise, however, Jude Durrace stood on the other side. The dark-haired guy gave Jade a friendly smile. "Slept in?" he asked.

Jade lifted a hand to the back of his neck and for a moment, his lips parted slightly, unsure of what to say. But then he nodded.

Jude invited himself into Jade's room and walked over to the teenager's bed. "Yeah, I did too," he agreed. "But not this long, so I thought I would make sure you were ok, and everything." Jude rested his hand on one of the bedposts and looked back at Jade who still stood by the doorway. "You slept well?"

"Y-yeah," Jade agreed.

"It was all good?" Jude asked.

Jade nodded again.

Jude glanced around the room. "It's a nice place here—want something to eat?"

"Oh…" Jade said, his fingers running through his hair again. "Uh—no, no, I'm fine, thanks."

Jude shrugged and sat down on Jade's bed.

The teenager watched him and suddenly a chill ran down his back. "Were they talking about me?" Jade asked softly.

Jude didn't seem to hear for a moment and he turned toward the window. But then, without turning back, he answered. "Yeah…said you tried to kill yourself, or something…"

Jade bit his lip. "You know—it's—it's a lie," Jade said, his voice wavering slightly.

Jude turned and gave Jade a smile. "I knew a girl once…" he said. "She…she killed herself…She…uh…she was nice…like you…"

Jade shifted. "It was an accident…" he whispered.

"Jade, I don't want you to die…" Jude said, suddenly standing up and walking over to the teenager. Jude reached out and put his hands on Jade's shoulders. "I don't like seeing you hurt the way you do…'cause I know you do…I guess that's what makes you so sweet…My mother told me once that people who hurt either become really awful or they become really nice…I guess that's what happened to you…But I don't want to lose you—Jade, I just came here to say…" Jude's voice trailed off for a moment. "I want to say for me—and for them, even though they just won't say it—that we need you—I mean, this place—everywhere wouldn't be the same without you."

"Jude…that's really nice…" Jade said, and his words stung him because they came from the bottom of his heart. "But…I don't think…I mean…they don't care."

"They do, Jade, they do!" Jude insisted. "And I care!"

"Yeah…yeah, I can see you do…" Jade said. It felt strange talking to Jude because the guy was a lot taller than Jade was, yet Jade could talk to him as if he were a child—or even just a figment of Jade's imagination. "So I'll…just keep that in mind…"

Jude gave Jade a sad smile. Slowly, he reached up and touched Jade's face. "You're heart's so…so cold…I can feel it. It's like ice. Don't die, ok?" Then he left.

Jade was left standing in stunned silence. Jude Durrance was a strange guy…

Jade shrugged off the feeling and walked back over to his bed. He decided to get ready for the day. He might as well face it. It was coming.

"Uh…we—we're just going to cut that out…" Rudurhans said. He was leaning over Kayaeshie Taljiea staring at a computer screen. "So just…edit that out of the track, because we don't need that in there…and the shocks are too complicated—especially because we only have a 4600 connection down in the platform…if you put all that in, then you got a pretty good risk of getting a bad ring. So just cut that out and…" Rudurhans straightened and looked about the room with a finger raised to pinpoint the person he wanted. "Jade—" he said, centering on the teenager standing silently in the corner. "We're cutting out sync 43 on 'Lost in the Echo,' so forget that part—" Rudurhans turned suddenly back to Kayaeshie. "Make sure you edit it out of his sound stream…"

"You want dis part cut, too?" Kayaeshie asked pointing at something on the screen.

"Uh—oh that, na, we got uh—Jude!" Rudurhans again turned about the room and spotted the dark-haired guy sitting backwards on a chair with an apple in one hand and a book in the other. "Jude, did we get you lined up for sync 30? I don't remember discussing that…"

"Uh…nope…" Jude said with a casual glance at Rudurhans. "I got 40-50. No thirties." He turned back to his book and took another bite of apple.

"Ok…" Rudurhans said. "Then, tell you what, we're going to cheat a little here put all of this…" Rudurhans took the mouse from Kayaeshie and began highlighting part of the track. "Into the run-through for the stereo system, because nobody's going to notice anyway, and I don't want to cut it out. Good?"

"Good," Kayaeshie agreed.

"Ok," Rudurhans said. He turned back to the people in the room again. "Where's Amber?"

There was silence.

"Jade, go find Amber and tell her to show you the stage layout, because I already reviewed it with her," Rudurhans said, and without waiting for a response, he turned back to the computer.

Jade wouldn't have given him one anyway. The teenager silently left the room and walked down the hall directly outside the room. He didn't know where Amber was. In the huge place, he didn't have much of a chance of finding her. But at least he had gotten out of that room. Fentra Scale had been staring at him nearly the entire time, and although Jade's nerves seemed far too dead to feel a thing, it had still bothered him, and Jade had begun to wonder what exactly Fentra was staring at.

The place was enormous—down here was rather like the Tech building, with stripped walls and a basement-like appearance. But Jade knew that the stairway to the left led directly up into the huge concert hall. This was just the under-workings—in fact, from where he was right now, he was probably directly below the stage. The thought bothered Jade. He didn't want to get up on stage. He was afraid to face so many people with the emotional state he was in now.

And then, suddenly, Jade turned off and headed up the stairway.

All the lights were on over the stage and the concert hall as Jade stepped out into it. He slid his boot across the flooring of the stage, and then walked up to the front. The place was empty aside from a few security guards drifting about. But the endless rows of chairs facing Jade sent chills down his back. It was always more frightening to look out at it when the lights were on. And that was how many people he would have to face that night. But he knew the noise and the darkness and the spotlights would blind his mind and let him do it. It always did.

That was where Amber found him as she stepped out onto the stage behind him. "There you are…" she said, and he turned quickly to look at her.

Jade bit his lip and turned his eyes to the floor.

"Dreading it?" Amber guessed.

Jade nodded silently.

"Why? Still feeling bad?" she asked and she walked up beside him.

"I…I…" Jade began, but his voice trailed away and he didn't finish. His copper eyes drifted toward the rows and rows of empty seats. He told himself silently that he would manage. It wouldn't kill him. He would do his best, and do a good job. No, he would not be congratulated for his effort, but he wouldn't be punished for making mistakes. He would do his best and that was all he could do, anyway.

Jade's thoughts were instantly shattered when he suddenly felt Amber touch his shoulder. The teenager flinched away and turned to look at her.

"Jade…" she said in a toneless voice. Her eyes were fixed on him, but she too seemed lost in thought.

There was silence, and Jade's mind again wandered to what would happen that night. Again, he told himself it would be ok. But staring out at the seats and imagining them full of people terrified Jade. Why he had to go through the same stage fright at the beginning of each tour, he never understood. But why did it matter? It was just there and that was all.

Jade didn't see Amber reach out her hand towards him again. His attention was fixed on the audience seating, and his thoughts were pinned on it. He didn't see the slight smile that crossed her face. He didn't notice at all until he felt her hands on his waist.

Jade sucked in his breath so hard, it startled even Amber. But she didn't move her hands fast enough. Jade stumbled several feet away from her with a startled cry and then stood, staring in shock at her.

"What the **** is wrong with you?" Amber asked, quickly getting over her surprise.

For a long moment, Jade was silent. But then, his eyes widened in anger, "Don't ever touch me like that again!" he screamed.

"What the ****?" Amber asked casually. "I didn't have a knife in my hand if that's what you thought, *****."

"Oh, don't play stupid with me!" Jade cried. "You keep your ******* hands off me!"

"What?" Amber asked with a careless grin. "Think I'm gonna hurt you like your father, or what?" She shrugged. "Come on, Dad told me to show you the stage layout."

Jade was completely silent while Amber explained the positioning on the stage and talked about the detailed lineup of planned events. Then, when she had finished, she turned back to Jade. "Sometimes I get the feeling you aren't as sweet as everyone seems to think you are," she said. There was no emotion whatsoever in her voice.

Jade didn't answer. His heart was beating wildly with a feeling as if he had somehow been betrayed. Yet what had she done to him? The question made Jade feel stupid. All she had done was touch him…Still, with his eyes glued to the floor, bitterness still dominated his feelings.

"It's a real pity," Amber added. "You could have been some real treasure for some girl, and now you're just nothing but sour. Oh well, that happens to people, I suppose. They just get used up over time. Maybe your father has just used up every bit of good left in you that time he slept with you."

Her words were the last straw. "Shut up!" Jade exploded. "What the **** do you want from me!? What the ******** **** do you want from me!? You want to use me too?! You want to be just like him—take everything till it's gone!? I'd like to see you spend a single day in my position! I'd like to see you spend a single moment in my position! Yet, here you are, going on and on and on just—just to ****** take everything out of me that you can get away with! You wonder why I'm sick of myself!? You wonder why I tried to kill myself!? Huh?! It's 'cause of the **** ****-**** you keep on going on about!"

"Sure, Jade. You're a cute enough guy," Amber said as if she hadn't heard half of what he said. She started toward the exit of the stage. "I'll sleep with you the nights your papa doesn't want you."

Then she was gone.

Jade was left alone. Anger blinded him so that the words didn't hurt as much, but he still heard them. He told himself he shouldn't be surprised. There was just something wrong with him that made everyone want to use him. There had been something wrong with him ever since he was born. But maybe…maybe she was just teasing. Yes, she was mean. But teasing was very different from threatening, and Jade was fairly certain she hadn't been threatening. Nonetheless, it made him furious. She didn't know what she was talking about. She didn't even care.

Jade let out a shaky sigh. It was ok. At least he had never been fooled into thinking Amber cared about him. There had always been some level of hate between them. But as Jade stared out at the empty concert hall, he couldn't help but feel terribly alone. Did all his fans see him like that? No, they came for the music, and Jade would give them what they wanted that night. Afterward, he would stay up late signing autographs and letting his fans touch him. The thought made Jade shudder. More than once he had received a touch in a place he hadn't liked. Ever since, Jade had tried to put some distance between the crowd and himself. But now, the thought of being touched anywhere scared him. Why was he so sensitive? Why was being touched suddenly so painful?

Maybe he could slip out early…

Jessie Colby seemed to be taking a particularly long time styling Jade's hair that afternoon. But Jade didn't mind. It gave him time to try to relax.

Jessie, however, seemed to sense his tenseness. "Something wrong?" she asked.

Jade shuddered and didn't answer.

"Don't wanna talk about it, or what?" she asked. She shot Jade a comforting smile through the mirror.

She was so different from Amber. She didn't try to touch him anywhere besides the area she was working on. She never assumed he wouldn't mind. She never tried to harass him. She never flirted. She never lied. She never teased… "What do the behind-the-scenes workers know about me?" Jade asked suddenly.

"What do they know about you?" Jessie asked.

Jade suddenly leaned forward and put his face in his hands.

"Jade?" Jessie asked, her hands retracted. There was concern in her voice.

Jade sighed and didn't move. He suddenly knew he was about to cry and he didn't want Jessie to see it.

"If you don't want to talk about it, you don't have to," Jessie decided. But she didn't move to go back to work on his hair.

"I do…" Jade said, and the words came out of him with a sigh.

"Yeah?" Jessie encouraged.

"I…" Jade sighed again. He didn't know where to begin. But he did know he had to tell her. She was the only one who really cared. She was the only one who had ever listened. "My dad ****** me…" Jade said at last in a weak voice. "And Amber thinks it's funny…" And then Jade was crying. Tears flowed down his face openly and he couldn't hide it. "I'm tired of being just a piece of ****! I'm tired of going on and on and on for nothing! I need to rest, but I have nowhere to go—I'm hated and abused by my own father when I go home and here I'm harassed and teased nonstop!"

Jessie put a comforting hand on Jade's shoulder. He didn't flinch. And he realized that through all this pain and fear he trusted her not to hurt him when she touched him.

"Jade, I know, I know…" Jessie said. Her grip tightened on Jade's shoulder, then loosened again, and it felt good. "They're just taking your intimacy before you can find a safe place to place it—I know what that's like, Jade—believe me, I do…"

"I can't do this—I can't do this anymore!" Jade screamed.

"Hush," Jessie said softly, and she began rubbing his shoulders.

"What should I do?" Jade cried. "Should I let them have what they want? Should I give myself away?"

"Jade," Jessie said seriously. She crouched down and looked up into his face. "You need to stop crying. You're just stressing yourself out. No, you shouldn't let them have their way, Jade. I know you feel like **** because that's what they say you are, but stop thinking that. They're lying, Jade. They're lying, and you can't believe them. You don't have anyone, Jade. You got no one to tell you how much you're really worth."

"I'm not worth anything," Jade said weakly. He raised his head and began wiping his face with his sleeve. I don't matter to anyone. I don't have anything left to give, so they take what's left. I want to die. I'm sick of living like this…"

"You can't die, Jade. You're worth too much—you're worth far more than any of them. Look at you—you're beautiful," Jessie said. She began finishing Jade's hair.

Jade let out a depressed sigh. "I'm going to try to make it through this concert…but then…then I…then I don't want to try anymore…"

"You're just tired, Jade," Jessie said.

It was the first time she had misunderstood him.

Chapter Two

Ice on the Frozen Earth

Jade knew he wasn't up to it. He knew he wasn't really in shape for it. But he didn't have a choice. While the curtain was still closed, he had a little time to breathe. Jade had the foremost position on the stage. That was the way it always was. The thought made fear ripple through him. He told himself that this concert hall was far smaller than the Crement Showboard and the Crement Showboard was even smaller than the Galewall Rock Shows.

On a sudden impulse, Jade glanced back at Amber. But his eyes lowered quickly. She had been staring at him. Jade looked silently down at himself. He was wearing a half-zipped tight black leather jacket-and…skinny jeans. He sighed and wished he could have worn something else. But Amber had say over what he wore, and he didn't.

Jade lifted his earphones and slipped them into place. He pressed them down and they blocked out all the noise from the screaming crowd on the other side of the curtain. Jade lifted his hand up and placed it on the wireless microphone before him on a stand. He let his head drop and he sighed.

He needed to just forget himself for a while and perform.

The beat dropped and Jade felt the vibration through the floor. He could hear the entire tune through his earphones, and that would help him stay on time. He had back-up from Jude Durrace. He could do this—he would have to.

The curtain was released from the hooks that held it in place and it fell. The lights changed, and Jade could feel the racket vibrating his bones. It shook the floor and left a jumpy feeling in the young rockstar. He raised his head and his eyes met with the screaming crowd. The house was packed. Jade was glad it was dark. He could only see the front rows as individual faces.

"I'll put in everything I have," Jade whispered to himself. He couldn't hear the words, but he knew he had said them. The knowledge gave him a little hope.

Jade gave more than he had. He walked off stage sweat-soaked. He was tired, but the ringing in his ears from the vibration and noise kept his nerves awake.

"Jade," Rudurhans said, nudging the teenager in the shoulder. "Get washed up and then come out into the meeting room, yes?"

"Yes…" Jade repeated. His mind was shut off. Only his nerves were still aware. He walked straight to the changing room and took a hand-towel from one of the workers there. He dried the sweat from his face and then tore off a gold chain from around his neck. The chain broke, but Jade didn't care. It was burning his skin, and he didn't like it.

One of the workers came up behind him and began drying sweat off the back of his neck. Jade flinched, but forced himself to stay where he was. He dried his hands and made a half-attempt to stop the sweat from pouring down his face again.

"You want your jacket off?" the worker asked.

"Ye—I'll take it off," Jade decided. He unzipped the jacket and then struggled out of the tight sleeves. He moved over to the mirror and looked at himself. The thin black shirt he had been wearing under it was sticking to his skin with his sweat. "Give me another jacket," Jade decided. He didn't like so much of his body showing through—especially after what Amber had said to him.

The worker pulled a jacket off a rack and handed it to Jade. The teenager pulled it on and zipped it all the way up.

Jade ran his fingers through his hair and then lifted a water bottle off a table. He yanked off the cap and dropped it on the floor. Then he drank. The water felt terribly refreshing and Jade felt a little life return to his numbed mind. Jade scraped his hand through his hair again and then pulled his earphones off and let them fall over his shoulders.

"Need anything else?" the worker asked, stepping up to him.

"No, I'm done," Jade said, shaking his head. The worker nodded and walked away.

For a moment longer Jade stood before the mirror staring at his reflection. Then, with a sigh, he left the mirror and headed for the meeting room.

Right outside the door, a security guard met him and followed him in. The place was already filled with intense racket. But the screaming grew louder as Jade entered the room. Jade forced himself to smile for them. He held out his hands and let them brush their fingers passed his. There was a railing between him and them, but occasionally some eager fans would break across the railing in a desperate attempt to get closer to him. That was what the security guard was there for—actually, there were several security guards in the room.

"Jade Leeman! Jade Leeman!" Someone called above the crowd and a guy in a suit and tie pushed his way up to the front. "Several of your fans say you can sing higher than any member in Glist. Would you vouch for that?"

Jade shook his head. "I don't listen to Glist music. I really wouldn't know."

The man gave Jade a grin and the crowd screaming grew louder. Jade had only spoken the truth, but apparently, the crowd had taken it for a smart answer.

"Would you count your band above Glist?" the man asked, still fighting to stay in the front.

"It's my band…" Jade answered dully.

Again, his answer was met with intense screaming.

A group of girls pressed up to the front of the railing and the man was drowned in the background. Several pens and pieces of paper were extended towards Jade and he signed each piece of paper—including several pictures of himself—with a few quick strokes.

"Excuse me," another suit-and-tie man called. "A rumor on the internet says your father is abusive. Is that true?"

Jade's heart stopped for a moment. His expression froze. But then, quickly recalling himself, he smiled easily. "Well yeah! Just like I chew the same piece of gum for two years straight—of course my father is abusive!"

There were giggles from the crowd. Several hands reached out toward Jade, and the teenager stepped back.

"So this is just another rumor that has no truth to it?" the man asked.

"You got it, dude," Jade said aiming his finger at the man like a gun.

Someone grabbed his arm and yanked Jade up to the railing. Instantly, there were hands all over him. Jade tried not to panic. His security guard pushed back the fans, and the hands released him.

But the same reporter was still there. "Where do you get inspiration for the songs you write? It seems like a lot of them could be directly related to child abuse…"

"Oh, I don't write most of them myself," Jade, said tilting back his head a little. "And the ones I do write…I don't know…it just comes…"

"Have you ever had a girlfriend?"

"Nope, I'm still looking," Jade said with a forced grin.

The answer was met with intense screaming, and Jade had to step several feet back to avoid being caught by the hands again. Someone broke through the railing, and it took three security guards to push back the crowd.

A guy who was certainly not a reporter suddenly lunged forward and grabbed Jade's arm, pulling him up to the railing. "Hey, I have a crush on you…" the guy said, giving Jade a friendly smile.

But by the way he said it, Jade knew he wasn't joking. The teenager stared at the guy in stunned silence. "Y-you're…gay?" he asked.

The guy nodded.

But a moment later he was drowned in the crowd.

"My gosh, Jade, you are so ****!" a girl close to Jade called. The teenager moved hurriedly away from that section of the railing. He passed his fingers again among the reaching hands.

"I love you, Jade!" someone yelled above the rest of the screaming. The words were echoed by several others.

A man with black hair suddenly half-dove over the railing with a, "*****! Where's your ******* brain at!?" But a moment later he was yanked to the back by the crowd.

More papers and pens were pressed into Jade's hands. He signed more autographs.

"Jade! Jade! Jade! Jade!" a girl's voice called and Jade turned to see a teenaged girl holding a jeweled ring out to him. "Please! Please take this!" she cried. Jade silently held out his hand and let the girl press the gift into his fingers. "I love you!" she called. Another girl pulled a green ribbon out of her hair and pressed it into Jade's fingers calling that she loved him too.

"Jade! Jade, can I get a selfie with you?" someone else called. But the picture was taken before Jade could even pinpoint who the words had come from.

A long arm reached out and touched Jade's hair. He flinched away from the touch, but he couldn't force a smile. His heart was growing sick. He was tired. He wanted to lie down and the noise was wearing him out.

Another news reporter pressed his way to the front. "Have you ever had had a crush on a girl, Jade?"

The teenager didn't answer. He continued on down the railing pretending he hadn't heard.

"You have a fantastic voice," another news reporter called. "Where did you get vocal training?"

"I-I never had vocal training…" Jade stuttered.

The same reporter kept up with Jade as he moved down the railing. "A lot of parents think it inappropriate the way you show off your body in the way you dress. What do your parents think about it?"

Why on earth did he think Jade would answer that question? Jade kept moving.

"Jade Leeman!" a female reporter called. "How do you feel this performance went? Do you feel good about it?"

Jade didn't answer. He reached out again and brushed his hand along the lines of reaching arms—but only in an effort to cover up his inability to fake a smile.

And then, finally, a security guard called the closing time and began pressing the people out. Jade willingly followed his guard out of the room. He was escorted outside the concert building to the parking-lot and dropped off in the back of an ordinary Toyota Camry.

He was driven to the hotel and then the Camry driver accompanied him up to his hotel room and then left him there to return to the car.

Jade walked inside his room and then headed straight for the bathroom. He felt so sick, he thought he was going to throw up.

But fifteen minutes passed and he still hadn't. Jade sat down on the floor of the bathroom and began trying to pull off his jacket. He was sweating as if he was still on stage. But the jacket was tight and it was too much effort and with a frustrated gasp, Jade gave up. He felt too sick to keep trying. Still, he wouldn't throw up.

The minutes passed slowly.

Finally, in a desperate attempt to relieve himself of the sick feeling, Jade shoved his fingers down his throat and forced himself to throw up. Jade did it twice and then, shaking all over, he pulled himself to his feet and walked over to the sink. He rinsed his mouth and then carefully pulled off the leather jacket. He felt weak from vomiting, but at least the sick feeling was gone. Jade began silently washing his make-up off. He washed his face and ran his wet fingers through his hair.

Then he walked slowly back into the bedroom. Jade sat down on the bed and pulled off his boots. He walked over to his closet and changed into some looser jeans and a new tee-shirt. Then, utterly spent, Jade crawled onto his bed and lay down, too tired to get under the blanket.

The following morning, Jade woke up early and packed everything up. He and the rest of the Eclipse people got back onto the tour buses and moved on.

Jade tried to sleep. Hours of driving were boring for him, and at a time when thinking was so painful, they also became torturous. But he couldn't. Amber sat right next to him and continued poking him in the side and running her hands through his hair.

Jade finally grew so desperate for her to stop that he asked Rudurhans if it was really something she was allowed to do even though he didn't want it. Rudurhans gave his daughter one glare and Jade was left alone for the rest of the ride.

It was late before they finally reached the next hotel they would be staying in—within the next city they would be performing in. But then there was more waiting while the room arrangements were made. When Jade finally got his room number, he went straight up to his room, dumped his things in a corner and went to bed.

The concert that followed the night after was little different from the one before. Under-slept, Jade found his mind dulled. But he managed to survive it. The next three days were spent in travel to the next city.

Jade found himself falling into the familiar rhythm of touring. Here and there, break nights came when there was neither traveling nor showing the next day. But for the most part, it was constant action.

Jade gradually sank down into depression. One night after a show, he felt so bad, throwing up did not relieve the sickness he felt. He cut his wrists and then fell asleep on the bathroom floor. The following morning, he cleaned up the bathroom and went on as if nothing had happened.

Jade found self-harm to be just as relaxing as drugs. And he was beginning to take a lot of illegal medication to try to ease his mind. When pills grew useless, Jade began using syringes. The needles frightened him but the aftereffect was so good, Jade found it worth it.

One evening, Amber discovered Jade was self-harming. Because of all the blood, she thought he was trying to kill himself and she called an ambulance. Jade got in trouble over it, but he didn't have to stay in the hospital long.

Jude Durrace tried to sympathize with Jade, but the teenager didn't want any of his sympathy.

Jade cried himself to sleep many nights. He usually couldn't fall asleep without taking drugs. Memories of his father lying beside him kept him awake when he wasn't high.

Jade didn't speak to Jessie Colby anymore. He was too frightened and ashamed.

And then during one concert, Jade fainted because he had lost so much blood from cutting the night before. He went on until he couldn't anymore, and then he dropped on the stage and sent the concert hall into chaos. Fentra beat him up for it, but Jade wouldn't stop cutting himself and a week later in a different city, he fainted again.

They could yell at him all they wanted, but Jade didn't have the energy or will to listen. He couldn't change himself. He hated his reflection more than he hated anyone else in his life. In insane fits of rage, he smashed several hotel mirrors and had to pay for it afterwards.

Nothing fazed him. He found himself consumed in his self-hate. He began refusing to sign his autograph on pictures of himself. His heart longed to go home, but his mind told him only the horror of his father's abuse waited for him there.

The tour went on in a gradually worsening condition for Jade until Eclipse reached Crement.

The concert hall in Crement was far bigger than any of the others Eclipse had been to yet. This was the second-to-last stop before they could go home, and Jade just wanted to get it over with.

However, that afternoon, an hour before the show, Amber walked into Jade's room.

Jade, sitting on his bed, looked up quickly.

"Not cutting right now?" Amber asked sarcastically.

"Shut up," Jade said coldly.

"Shut up yourself—and listen," Amber ordered. "Remember how I told you before we left home that you need to get signed up with the gang so that you can get your own ****?"

"Yeah…" Jade said, looking up at her with a little interest in his eyes. He was tired of getting drugs from Amber—it would be much nicer if he could take the medication without her knowing what type or quantity.

"Yeah, well I contacted one of their market points and you gotta sign some papers so let's go," Amber said shortly.

"What the ****?" Jade asked. "Now?"

"Yeah, dope," Amber said. She turned and left his room.

Jade stood up and hurriedly pulled on his boots. He grabbed a leather jacket and then, running his hands through his hair as he went, he followed her.

"You need to buy a membership," Amber informed him as they made their way to Amber's rental car, a silver Mercedes.

They got into the car and started away from the hotel.

"How much will that cost?" Jade asked.

"Oh, it's like 1,000 per month and then you get the drugs discount for dirt cheap. It's really the best deal anywhere," Amber answered.

"Uh…and what is…a discount price?" Jade asked.

"Well like…500, 600 bucks a slack."

"A slack?" Jade asked stupidly.

"Yeah, duh—fifty pills," Amber said with a belittling smirk.

"$1,500 for fifty pills?" Jade asked in disbelief."

"The stuff ain't cheap, Puppy. But that's dirt-cheap compared to most. That will do a normal person for twenty-five days, and that's about three and a half paychecks," Amber answered.

"How—how do you afford that!?" Jade gasped.

"Puppy…I make—what? No, I'm not even gonna say, but I know you make more—"

"But that's $30 per pill!" Jade gasped.

"Sure, whatever, I don't know," Amber said. "It ain't cheap."

"What about the liquid?" Jade asked, barely daring to ask.

"Oh, that?" Amber shrugged. "That's like 1,000 bucks for fifty."

Jade sighed. "With the membership?" he asked weakly.

"Yup—but the syringes are a lot more effective, you know."

"$2,000 per month…" Jade sighed.

"Well be glad I paid for it this long," Amber pointed out with a grin.

Jade sighed. "You never told me it cost so much…"

"I thought you would know," Amber answered. "Didn't know you were that stupid."

They were entering a trashy neighborhood on the outskirts of Crement.

Amber turned off suddenly into the parking lot of an old factory building. "Now this," she explained. "Is actually a plastic factory. The gang operates in the basement, but they keep the factory running so it doesn't look suspicious. They have workers come in from the trash neighborhoods and they work for nothing aside from a constant membership—so obviously, they have to have another job, but that's where they get a lot of the business. Plus, they get all the crop from the plastic factory. Clever, huh?"

Jade sighed. "Sounds awful."

"Oh, these people are awful," Amber said, raising her eyebrows meaningfully. "But don't worry—they'll like you." She pushed open her door and got out.

For a moment, Jade remained sitting in the passenger's seat of the silver Mercedes. His copper eyes fixed on the ominous building ahead of him and he wondered if he should, in fact, just have offered to pay Amber to get drugs for him…

But finally, shaking himself inwardly, he got out of the car. Jade followed Amber up to the front entrance and she held the door open for him.

Inside, was a ceaseless atmosphere of noise. Huge, rusty machines moved constantly in the building which appeared to be almost all as single, enormous room. Workers in white uniforms moved slowly about, monitoring the machines.

But Amber gave Jade little time to stare at it. She pulled him down a stairway to the side. At the bottom, they came to a heavy metal door. Amber pulled a card out of her jean pocket and swiped it across a tiny black screen to the side of the door. A lock opened and Amber pushed open the door.

The doorway opened up to a secretary-like desk. An ordinary-looking receptionist looked up. She smiled at Jade, and then, without turning away from him, she spoke to Amber. "What ya want?"

Jade shifted. He didn't like her staring at him like that.

"He needs a membership," Amber said simply.

"Yeah?" the lady asked. She pulled out a folder and opened it. "What's his name?"

"Jade Leeman," Amber answered for him.

The secretary wrote it down.

Jade sighed. This might be less painful than he had expected. He didn't like this person, but she was better than what it could have been.

"Ok, I gotta get a picture of him," the receptionist said. She pulled down a mechanical arm from its folded position in the ceiling and before Jade could say a word, she snapped a picture with it. She let it fold back up to its place in the ceiling. She nodded. "Alright, you can go on through to talk to the boss—she should be able to see you immediately.

So it wasn't going to be so easy.

Amber pulled Jade through another locked door into a place that looked rather like an ordinary pharmacy. She took Jade up to the counter and leaned over to talk to the guy behind it. "We're here to see the boss about a membership," she said.

"Oh, yeah?" the guy asked. He leaned back in his chair to see down a hallway to the side. "Ava!" he yelled.

A moment later, a very short girl appeared. She wore a ratty tank-top and very short ripped blue-jean shorts. She was covered in tattoos and her hair was dyed a light purple.

"What?" she snapped in a high-pitched voice, her sharp blue eyes darting about, taking in the situation.

"New member," the guy answered.

"Yeah?" the girl looked up at Jade, but then turned and walked off to the side. She stopped by a wall and kicked an upside-down five-gallon bucket over to the counter. She stood up on it, and then climbed onto the counter like a child. She sat down on it, her legs draping off the other side.

Jade took several steps back from her. But he couldn't take his eyes off her.

"This the newby?" the girl asked.

Amber nodded.

"Yeah, don't ever remember seeing that one…." She tilted her head, inspecting Jade. "Uh…male or female?"

"Male," Amber answered.

"Oh," the girl said. Her high-pitched voice sounded like a child. "Does he talk?" She tilted her head again.

"Yeah, he's just an anti-socialist," Amber said.

The girl grinned. "I like that type, you know?"

"I know," Amber said, leaning over the counter casually. "I thought you would like him…"

"Come here," the girl beckoned.

Jade took a step closer, but then stopped. He couldn't stop looking at her. Yet she made him sick.

"Aww, come on!" the girl said. She reached out and hooked her fingers onto Jade's shirt, and pulled him forward.

Then, when he was only a few inches from her, she released him and rubbed her chin. "Ever had a tattoo?" she asked after a moment.

Jade shook his head.

"You know, you gotta get one if you want a membership," she said.

Jade shot a glance at Amber. "W-why?" he asked.

"'Cause it's part of the custom," the girl answered. "Why? You don't want a tattoo?" the girl asked. "We give it to you for free, you know."

"No, I don't want a tattoo," Jade clarified.

"Aww, that's sad…" the girl said. She shrugged. "Well, I guess you don't need one, then." She glanced at the guy who was still sitting in the chair behind the counter. He grinned back at her.

There was silence for a moment. Then the girl turned back to Jade. "Turn around," she ordered.

Hesitantly, Jade obeyed.

"All the way around," the girl said.

Jade obeyed and then he was facing her again.

"Ok, you can have your membership," the girl said at last. "Membership's one grand a month—keep it up for a year and the next year it's 700. Next year it's 600. That's as low as it gets. But just remember to never—never, never, never, never, never let your membership expire or it will stay a 1,000 forever. K?"

Jade nodded. She sounded so chirpy and happy and silly. It was…strange.

"Alright," the girl decided. She reached down under the counter and pulled out a card that was exactly the same size as an ID card. It had Jade's picture and name on it as well as several long digits that were meaningless to Jade.

"Don't lose it," the girl warned as she handed it to Jade. "And don't let anyone find it."

Jade handed her payment and then he and Amber left.

"I'm surprised they just let you off without getting a tattoo," Amber said as she and Jade drove back toward the hotel.

"I don't even see why you need a tattoo…" Jade said. He was staring down at the card the girl had given him. But all he could think about was her body.

"Well, they're all the same—in the shape of a dragon—the gang's name is The Dragons. It's just another way of proving it's you in case there's any trouble.

"Oh…" Jade said, suddenly quite relieved he hadn't had to get the tattoo.

The rest of the drive went on in silence.

It was the largest, loudest crowd Jade had sung for during the entire tour. He knew that before he went out to meet it. He could hear the racket. It was supposed to be 2,500 people…Half of what the Crement Showboard was, and a third of the Galewall Rock Competition. Still, Jade felt fear trickle down his back even though he had been through most of the tour already. That was why, a few minutes before he had to prepare for curtain drop, he had slipped into the bathroom and taken an injection.

The drug did magic, and it was the best performance Jade had managed. In the meeting room, he was able to laugh with his fans. But toward the end of the five-hour show, the drug began to wear off and Jade grew tired.

By the end, Jade was dropped back down into depression. He sat down in a chair in the back of the empty meeting room and dropped his head in his hands. Half an hour passed…then it turned into an hour…then two hours…then three.

"Sir?"

Jade looked up to see his security guard standing before him.

"They've all left…are you ready to go?" he asked.

Jade sighed. He felt as if standing up would be too much effort at the moment. Slowly, he shook his head. "Go on home…I'll…I'll go alone…"

"Uh…my orders are…" the guard began, but Jade cut him off.

"You're dismissed," he said.

The guard nodded and left the room. Jade heard his steps trailing further and further away. Jade knew he had to leave—sooner rather than later, because eventually the building would be locked up.

But for a long moment, Jade didn't have the will to move. Why was he so depressed? It was just the loss of the effect of the drug…

Slowly, Jade dragged himself to his feet. He walked silently down the hallway and up to the exit. Outside, the parking lot was cleared out. There were only a few cars left, but leaving, Jade did not see anyone.

He would have to walk back to the hotel. He didn't have another option. He had sent his guard off and that was also his ride. It was a long way, but Jade didn't really think about it as he started down the road.

It was dark, but the world was lit by a mixture of light from buildings and the changing colors of street lights…and the cars. But it seemed like the headlights cast more shadows than anything else. Jade wasn't too afraid of being discovered. It was dark and although his tight jeans and fiber-woven black collared shirt were certainly not the most inconspicuous, Jade knew no one would be expecting to see him on the street at this hour—especially with no attendance.

Jade buttoned up his shirt all the way and then sighed. His breath made clouds of moisture in the cold air. He shivered because he had previously been drenched in sweat and now he was cold. He pulled down his sleeves and unfolded the edges so that they covered his hands halfway.

It was cold, but the temperature matched Jade's deadened mind. He glanced down the road and crossed the street on a red light. It was long past midnight and many of the businesses were closed. The streets were empty aside from a few stray cars.

Jade crossed the road again and a speeding silver Chevy Corvette had to slam to a stop in front of him. The car's horn sounded loudly into the night, but Jade didn't even turn to see who the angry driver was. The moment he was out of the way, the car slammed forward again and was gone.

And then, just as Jade turned onto a different road, another car appeared. But this one, a black Chevy Suburban, slowed to a stop beside him. Jade looked up in dread as the window rolled down.

A black guy with a tattoo crawling half across his face leaned out. "Hey, you're Jade Leeman, aren't you?"

Jade didn't answer. He had been recognized…Silently, he started on down the road. But the man suddenly leapt out of his car and caught Jade by the shoulder. "Hey, I'm with the Dragons and I was sent to pick you up," the man explained.

"Huh?" Jade asked, the explanation making no sense to his tired mind. "I don't need a ride."

"No, no, the boss wants to see you," the man explained with a gesture of his hand.

"You know what?" Jade sighed. "It's really late…and I'm afraid she's gonna have to wait until tomorrow."

"I'm…" the man began. But suddenly he lunged at Jade and grabbed both the teenager's arms, twisting them behind his back. "…afraid that's not possible," the man finished himself.

Jade started to scream, but the man clapped a hand over Jade's mouth and then walked him over to the Chevy Suburban. Somebody from within the car opened one of the back doors, and Jade was shoved inside. He was dumped on a bench—right beside another black guy.

"I advise you don't give us any trouble," the second man said darkly. He grabbed Jade's wrists and tied his hands behind his back. Then the man raised a black strip of cloth and tied it over Jade's eyes, blinding the teenager.

Jade sank into helpless terror. Every time the man beside him touched him, Jade would give a cry of fear. He could do nothing. He couldn't see what the man was doing.

Then, very suddenly, the car stopped. Jade was yanked out of his seat and was shoved ahead of one of the men. The teenager couldn't see a thing. He stumbled over something, and almost fell, but his fall was caught by the man behind him and he was shoved forward again.

Eventually, Jade caught the sound of voices. He was turned to the side, and then the voices became intelligible. He instantly recognized the voice of "the boss." Her high-pitched voice seemed to dominate the conversation, but all the people in the room fell silent as Jade was brought in. And then, the blind-fold was yanked off Jade's face.

He was standing in a room he had not been in before, but Jade could easily see that he was in a basement, although he hadn't been taken down any stairs. Perhaps he had entered through a back doorway somewhere…

"Ah, there he is," the boss said. She was sprawled on a rather out-of-place sofa. Several other people were standing around her, but the shadows hid their faces. Jade glanced quickly around the room. There was an old-fashioned looking stove in one corner that glowed with heat. In the center of the room, there was a rectangular pillar with a few metal rings on it. Jade shivered. There were more people standing in the shadows of the room. He just couldn't see them all.

"Bring him over here," the girl ordered.

The man behind Jade took Jade's shoulder roughly and shoved him up to the sofa. The boss yawned and stretched. One of the straps on her tank-top slipped over her shoulder. "So…" she said, straightening and pinning her eyes casually on Jade. "You didn't want a tattoo…and we…" she shrugged. "Decided not to give you one. Well…" she smiled. "That leaves you—well, technically, that only leaves you with one choice…But remember how…" she gestured with her hand as if she were talking about different types of lemonade. "…in the beginning…I said I liked you? Well, problem is, I don't really…you know…change my mind as fast as some other girls and I still kind of like you…So, just because I really am a nice person to people I like, I decided to give you another choice too…" She smiled. "So, wanna hear your choices?"

Jade didn't answer, but she wasn't going to wait for him to anyway.

"Well, actually let's rewind, and I'll tell you why we decided we didn't want to give you a tattoo…and it's not just 'cause you're so pretty and we wouldn't want to color any of that gorgeous skin with permanent ink…It's because…" she shrugged and let out a silly giggle. "Well, it's not like you're a trouble-maker!" She sobered. "The reason I'm telling you that is actually so you can take it as a compliment…because…" she glanced about the room. "That means you aren't inherently bad…like most of us around here…" She gave Jade a smile. "Isn't that good? You're like a celebrity and a billionaire, but you still aren't inherently bad!" she tipped back her head and giggled again. "But, around here…" she sobered. "We need to take precautions against people who aren't inherently bad, because all of us are inherently bad…You know?" she asked. "Because we kind of have a nice little business here and if someone…you know…called somebody who doesn't need to be here…" she grinned. "Then we could have a huge problem!" She giggled again.

"So, I'll go ahead and tell you the sad, terrible, awful, torturous choice…" she said. "Because most people like to hear the bad choice first." She smiled, then gestured to the pillar in the center of the room. "Well…you could be branded…"

Jade stared at her in disbelief. "W-what?" he gasped.

"Well…" she made a squeamish expression. "You know…like people do to cows…except…you're a human and you don't have fur or thick skin so it would be like…a thousand times more painful…"

"Wh-what's my other choice?" Jade asked, his voice rising with fear.

"Well…" the girl smiled. "You could be my boy! Come to see me…once a month every time you renew your membership…starting tonight, of course, since you're here…"

"What the ****!?" Jade gasped. He stepped back in horror.

"Have you…never had a girl before?" the boss asked.

Jade's throat went dry. He opened his mouth, but then shut it again.

"You know? How we cuddle an hour or two until we get warmed up and then…we do it?"

"No…no…" Jade said numbly. He found himself backing as far away from her as his holder's arms would allow.

"You don't want to?" she asked, tilting her head.

"No!" Jade screamed.

She seemed surprised. Then, tilting her head the other way, she shrugged. "Whatever. Brand him."

"Please!" Jade screamed, "Please just let me go! You can't do this! I didn't sign up for this!"

"Aww, you look so cute when you're scared…" the girl said, wriggling on her sofa. "Maybe I won't be able to resist and just have you after you're branded…"

Jade's heart was racing the way it did when his father was abusing him. But it beat with more than just fear…there was also…despair…

The teenager was yanked over to the pillar and his hands were untied, but not released. One of the men tore open Jade's shirt and pulled the side of it down passed his shoulders. Then, they twisted his arms backward around the pillar and tied them there.

"Oh, please don't struggle," the girl said from the sofa. She waved her hand as if she were swatting a fly. "They always do that, and it's pathetic. It's going to be twice as painful if you're so tense."

But Jade could barely hear her. Terror was drowning his senses. But he could do nothing. One of the men moved over to the stove and opened its door. He pulled out tongs holding a red-hot piece of metal in the shape of a wingless dragon crawling across a capital "D".

The man moved slowly towards Jade letting the stove door closed behind him. Jade screamed in terror, but the man didn't car. He raised the piece of metal and then suddenly forced it against Jade's exposed shoulder.

The pain knocked Jade senseless. His mind went black and he lost his balance despite the fact that he was pressed against the pillar. The man held the red-hot piece of metal there for two seconds and then the metal was withdrawn. But the pain remained as if the metal was still there. Jade couldn't breathe. Every time he tried to move his left arm, he nearly passed out.

"There! Isn't that cool?" the girl asked. "Now you're one of us! Forever!" Isn't that cool?"

"No," an accented voice said, and Jade instantly recognized the voice. "Scars never stay on Jade Leeman."

But Jade was certain he was just losing consciousness and imagining the voice all together…until he looked up and through eyes full of pain, saw Kayaeshie Taljiea standing in the light of the stove.

But then, suddenly a bucket of cold water was thrown over Jade's shoulder. The water felt like acid on the burn and he fainted with the pain.

Chapter Three

Just Want to Be

Jade's senses gradually returned and he found he was soaked in water. Someone had thrown water over his head to revive him. Instantly Jade was aware of an excruciating pain in his shoulder. He was lying on his back on the floor of the same room he had been branded in. But everyone was gone—aside from one of the black men who stood over him holding the bucket. Jade reached weakly over toward his burned shoulder, but every movement of his chest muscles was torture, and he gave up.

"Don't try to touch it," the man advised. He took Jade's right hand and pulled him to his feet. Jade was instantly aware that this was not the same man as either of the original two black men. "One of your friends has been called to take you home."

"Friends?" Jade asked stupidly. The image that came to his dim head was Shad Theton.

"I think her name was Amber," the man explained. He led Jade up the stairs that led to the factory. But half-way up them, Jade suddenly collapsed. The man quickly turned and pulled him back up, but Jade, crying with pain, didn't seem able to go any further. The man very carefully put his arm around Jade and helped him up the remainder of the stairway.

Jade didn't say anymore. Speaking was too much effort. His mind and body were consumed with the pain in his shoulder. His shirt was still pulled down below his shoulders, and he raised his arm to try to pull it up, but the man stopped him.

"Don't," he said softly. "The pressure will only hurt it more…" Then, carefully, he raised the other side of Jade's shirt over his right shoulder. Jade flinched at every touch, but he was leaning too heavily on the man to even try to make distance between them.

At last they were outside in the parking lot. The cold bit deeply into Jade's mind and body. It seemed to dull his senses and for a moment he nearly passed out again.

"When you get home," the man said. "Take a pain-killer and have one of your friends bandage it for you—otherwise you'll lose too much fluid through it."

"I-I—I can't…" Jade said helplessly. "I—I don't have any…any friends…" He choked on his words and the cold air stole the moisture from his throat. The man said nothing. He led Jade toward a silver Mercedes parked at the end of the lot.

But before they reached it, Amber stepped out to meet them. "Jade…" she said, her voice aghast. She walked quickly up to him but stopped when she saw his shoulder. "You already got in trouble?" she asked in shock.

But the man beside Jade spoke up for him. "No, it's what they do…when they think a new member will be trouble…rather than a tattoo, they give him a brand—it's custom."

Amber glanced at him. She looked again at Jade's shoulder.

"Ma'am," the man interrupted. "He needs to be taken home—he's in terrible pain."

Amber nodded wordlessly, and letting Jade lean on her, she led him over to the passenger's side of her car. She opened the door and let Jade drop inside. Then she shut the door behind him and moved quickly to the driver's side.

When they were both inside, Amber turned up the heating. Then she pulled a small spray-bottle out of the glove compartment and started shaking it.

"W-what are you doing?" Jade asked worriedly.

"This will help the pain," Amber said. She pulled off the cap.

But Jade suddenly reached out and shielded his shoulder from the bottle with a startled cry. "No! No, please! It hurts so much already!"

"Jade, this is going to help!" Amber explained.

"Please, no!" Jade begged.

Amber shrugged and re-capped the bottle. "Whatever, if you like the pain, then for ***'* sake you can keep it."

She pulled out of the parking lot and then they were driving back towards the hotel.

The time on the Cadillac read 4:32 A.M. by the time they reached the hotel.

Amber got out and helped Jade out of her rental car. Then she led him up to his room. Amber put Jade down on his bed and then sighed, looking down at the pain-consumed teenager. Jade couldn't focus on her face. He turned away and lay still, mentally trying to block out the pain.

"Are you…sure you don't want something for the pain?" Amber asked at last.

"Amber…please…" Jade said in a tight whisper. "Not…not now…I can't…can't take anything…"

Amber shrugged. "Sweet dreams, Puppy," she said and then turned and left his room.

When Jade woke up, his whole body was burning with heat. His shoulder was swollen and unmovable. The pain had numbed his nerves so that he barely felt real pain anymore. But Jade had a high fever and he felt so weak, he couldn't move. The sheet on his bed was sticking to his burn and he didn't dare try to pull it off.

And then someone knocked on his door.

Jade couldn't muster a response, so he didn't make one.

The knocking grew louder. But then, the door was thrown open. Rudurhans strode into the room, Amber a little behind him, and stopped before Jade. The teenager stared up at them, but didn't try to speak.

Rudurhans let out a long sigh and then leaned over Jade and examined his shoulder. Slowly, he pulled the sheet off it. Jade grit his teeth and forced himself to keep silent.

Rudurhans straightened. "What happened, Leeman?" he asked gravely.

"They branded him," Amber answered for him.

"Jade?" Rudurhans pressed.

The teenager's lips parted, but he didn't make a sound.

Rudurhans reached out and felt Jade's forehead. "He's burning up," the band leader said darkly. "What the **** were those **** ******* thinking?"

"What are we gonna do now?" Amber asked.

"I don't know—but I guess we'll have to cancel tonight's show," Rudurhans said darkly.

"We can't do that. We have a full house—we can't suddenly cancel," Amber pointed out.

Rudurhans pressed his jaw shut, and Jade knew he was furious. But it wasn't his fault! He wasn't the one who had decided he would go through this! The second option the boss had offered Jade flashed through the teenager's head, but he quickly shoved it aside. His father had already used him against his will, but Jade couldn't imagine selling the use of his body for anything—including drugs.

"Alright," Rudurhans said at last. "Drug him up and see if we can get him in shape for tonight—if not, we'll do the show without him. But that burn needs to be bandaged—it's just going to get infected if it isn't already, and then he'll have a fever forever. I'm going to go talk to the Dragon's boss."

Amber nodded. Then both of them left.

But Amber was only gone for a few minutes. She returned just a little later with some pills, a bandage roll, and a cup of water.

She dumped everything onto the little table beside Jade's bed and then leaned over him. "You gotta do what I say and you won't get in trouble. Understand?"

Jade nodded weakly.

"Alright," Amber agreed. She turned back to the table and lifted two pills. "Open up," she ordered. Jade obeyed and Amber dropped both pills into his mouth. Then she poured some water in and with some trouble, Jade swallowed.

"That should help with the pain," Amber explained. She lifted the bandage roll and walked around Jade to his other side. Then, slowly, she unbuttoned his shirt and carefully pulled his arm out of his sleeve. "Don't move," she instructed.

Jade grit his teeth again as she began wrapping his shoulder in the bandage. She pulled the material tightly and then fastened it with the small metal hooks at the end. Then she stood up and walked over to his closet. She pulled out a black tee-shirt with the words "Sound Station" written on it in white and carried it back over to him.

"Alright, sit up," she instructed.

"No, I'll do it myself," Jade said suddenly.

"There's no way you can do it yourself, you can't even sit up," Amber pointed out.

"I will," Jade insisted. "After you're gone."

"Oh, getting private, are we?" Amber smiled. "Come on, Jade! Half the rockstars in this country go without a shirt on stage, now come on!"

"Well apparently I'm not half the rockstars in this country," Jade said stubbornly. To make his point, he lifted his good arm up to his shirt and clasped his fingers over it, holding it closed.

Amber shrugged. "Alright. Do it yourself. I'll get another sheet…" With that, she left the room.

Sitting up was far harder than Jade had imagined. His body felt weak and completely spent, but he pulled himself up anyway and then gradually eased off the shirt he had worn the night before for the concert. Then, carefully, he put on the black tee-shirt. It was painful, but before Amber returned, Jade was finished and he lay back again.

"So you managed, did you?" Amber said as she walked back in with a folded sheet in her arms. She pulled the old one off Jade and then threw the new one over him. After that, she gave him some more pills and finally left him to rest.

Jade slept. The drugs relieved the pain entirely and left him only with exhaustion and a waning fever.

When Jade woke up several hours later, the fever was gone. Amber gave him more drugs and he fell asleep again. But he was improving and even he could feel it. His strength was returning and that was very good because no matter what condition he was in, he knew the Eclipse people would make him perform.

Jade was looking and feeling a lot better by the evening. Still, the mere idea of performing that night intimidated him. He was shaky on his feet and his head swam when he moved too fast. But Amber continued drugging him and Rudurhans decided he was fit enough.

All the behind-the-scenes workers knew. Jade realized that Kayaeshie must have spread the word, which wasn't surprising, because Jade knew the oriental guy would take every opportunity handed to him to tear the teenager down. Jade didn't even know why Kayaeshie hated him so much—perhaps it was jealousy, but Jade didn't exactly see what leveled him with Kayaeshie more than any of the other band members.

But Jade chose not to bring up the topic when he went in to see Jessie Colby to get ready for the show.

It was Jessie who brought it up.

"So you're with the Dragons now?" she asked. Her voice was toneless and it gave Jade no hint of how she felt about it.

The teenager shrugged and chose not to answer. She may well side with Kayaeshie on it, anyway.

"Jade?" Jessie prodded.

The teenager shrugged again and still didn't answer.

"Why did you sign up with a gang?" Jessie asked at last. "Why didn't you just find a local dealer?"

"First of all, I'm not a local person," Jade said, her words inspiring an argument. "I go all over the place and the Dragons deal everywhere. I couldn't use some local place. Second of all, it's cheaper with them."

"Local people have chains that reach everywhere," Jessie pointed out. "And it's cheaper, huh? Well I didn't realize you thought a third-degree burn was a low price. Rather like Kayaeshie, aren't you?"

"What the **** is that supposed to mean?" Jade demanded. "I am not a thing like that ****** Kie! And what's more, how the **** was I supposed to know they were going to—"

"Because that's what gangs do," Jessie broke him off. "They mark all their members and they keep track of them. That card they gave you? That isn't just an identification—that lets them watch how much your buying, when the last time you bought was, how much you've spent, etc. The 'expiration' is not what it seems. Why on earth would they care that you renew your card every month? It's just because when you stop coming in, that means you're up to something suspicious. And once your card expires, you're dead—either because you are dead, and believe me, they will find out if you are—or because you will be dead. They aren't going to risk losing their business over one customer, Jade."

"You're over-reacting," Jade smirked.

"Yeah, just like you would have said I was overreacting yesterday had I warned you that they might brand you, right?" Jessie asked sarcastically.

"Shut up," Jade ordered.

"Jade, I'm giving you straight-forward truth. Take it or leave it," Jessie said.

"Duh? When I tell you to shut the **** up, do you think that means I want to hear it or I don't?" Jade asked.

Jessie didn't answer.

Nothing more was said. When Jessie was finished, Jade got up and left without a word.

When Jade got back to his room, he took another injection before he left the hotel for the concert hall. He was drugged to the extreme, but he still realized that he had just lost someone else he could trust. Jessie was right, and Jade knew she was. But he hadn't been able to admit it in front of her. His guard had been up and he had taken her help for attack.

The concert proved very difficult for Jade. He was tired and unsteady from having a fever. Several times while singing his breath gave out and he missed time. Screaming was even more difficult. Once, dizziness took him and he almost fell, but he leaned on the microphone stand and got his balance back.

Then the concert was finally over and Jade left the stage. But there was no meeting room in this set-up so Jade was expected to go back out after a short break. He found a foldable chair in the back of the dressing room and sat down on it. One of the workers walked up to him and asked him if he wanted anything, but Jade dismissed him despite the fact that he was dripping with sweat.

When his time was up, Jade silently stood up and went back out onto the stage. Rudurhans was riling up the crowd by one side of the stage, so Jade went to the opposite side. He stood for a while, the wireless microphone in one hand, signing autographs and touching hands. But then he grew tired, so he sat down by the edge of the stage and decided the people would have to come to him. The disadvantage of that was then people could reach him and they pulled at him from all sides. But Jade was too exhausted to stand, so he just ignored it and continued signing autographs.

Someone in the crowd threw a paper-airplane at Jade, but the teenager saw it coming out of the corner of his eye and he ducked it. The airplane flew over Jade's head and skidded to a stop on the floor of the stage.

"Jade, can I have one of your studs?" somebody up by the front asked. Jade picked out the speaker, a pretty girl with thick black hair. He shrugged, pulled a stud out of his ear and tossed it to her. She caught it and smiled. "My name is Verdie Smith! I visit your website online! Respond to one of my comments! Please!" Then she disappeared.

"****!" someone else yelled. "Can I have one too?"

"Uh…how about no…" Jade decided with a fake grin.

"Jade, you're the king of rock!" someone else yelled.

There was more unintelligible yelling. Jade signed some more autographs.

Finally, that was over. Jade got up and left the stage.

That night, Jade went back to the hotel with his security guard. He went up to his room and lay down on his bed without even pulling off his boots or unclipping his earphones. He was too tired. He silently folded his arms under his head and fell asleep the way he was.

When Jade woke up, it was still painfully early in the morning. His shoulder was hurting and his mind was aching with all the mistakes he had made. He sat up and took some pills for the pain in his shoulder. Then he lay back down and tried to go back to sleep. But he ended up staring at the ceiling for half an hour and internally berated himself. When he couldn't stand that anymore, he got up and took a shower.

When he had changed into some fresh clothes, Jade got his laptop out and sat on his bed with it. It had been a long time since he had been on his computer—he probably hadn't been on it since the last time he had actually done any school. He turned the laptop on and then connected to the internet. Then he logged onto Facebook.

359 facebook friend requests waited for him. Well that was fairly balancing seeing as though he had unfriended 301 people in the past four months…

Jade opened up the list of requests and accepted every fifth person. He dismissed all the rest. Jade cleared out all his other notifications without looking at any of them. Then he got onto his profile page and began scrolling through it.

He deleted a few pictures he had put on more recently…

And then he stopped on a picture he had posted of himself—it was a selfie he had taken of himself and his gray cat during a very boring meeting…The picture reminded Jade that he had a cat, and that was a strange thing because he had rather forgotten about it. He had brought her on the last tour and most of the time he brought her on every tour, but this time he had forgotten about her so she was probably still somewhere in the tech building. That was ok. The same lady who took care of all his clothes and other junk fed his cat, so he didn't have to worry about her.

"This meeting is ****, the world is ****, and my life is ******," was the caption Jade had written below it. "But if that was the answer I had given them, I would be fired right now…so obviously, I lied."

That was so weird. Jade didn't remember writing that caption. Of course it was true, but Jade must have posted it sometime late at night because that was the only time he ever came up with something as crazy as that…

The name of the person who had left the top comment caught Jade's eye unexpectedly. "Stormline Monasco" had said, "Yeah, *****. That's the whole ******* world for you. Get used to it, ****."

Jade frowned. His fingers flew over the keyboard in a two-word response. "Shut up."

Then he opened his friends tab and searched "Stormline Monasco." When he found the name, he clicked it once and then moved his mouse toward the unfriend button, but right then a small red and white "1" appeared beside the notifications icon. Had Stormline replied?

Jade tapped the icon. He had.

Curiosity won over annoyance and, leaving the friends tab open with the unfriend button highlighted, Jade moved back to the picture.

"I love it," the Stormline person had responded.

Jade frowned again. That didn't even make any sense. And why on earth was this person on his computer right now? It was 2:03 in the morning.

"WTF?" Jade wrote back. This time, he waited.

"The pic, duh. And by the way—I saw you tonight. You were ****** awesome," came the reply.

"****," Jade muttered, and for a moment, his mouse moved back to the unfriend button. But he changed his mind and opened a reply bubble. "What on earth do you like about that picture? It's just a cheap selfie."

"Why on earth did you post it?" the response came. "****, it's the caption I love. Duh, that's why I even bother checking out your page to begin with. Sometimes, you have some **** that isn't just bogus."

"Thanks a lot," Jade typed back. "Well if you don't like what I post, then just unfriend me and you won't have to worry about it anymore. In fact, I can just unfriend you for you."

"What the ****? I just said I like it," the answer returned.

"Why'd you call it ****?"

"Because you're a piece of **** and that's why everyone likes you, duh?"

That was it. Jade hit the unfriend button and then deleted the picture and all the comments attached to it. He logged out, shut off his computer and then shoved it on the floor. He lay back on his bed and stared up at the ceiling again. His heart was pounding relentlessly and he didn't even know why.

Only…only his father called him a piece of ****. Nobody…nobody else did…

The following morning brought on the last day in Crement…And, as Jade rolled over onto his side, he realized it also brought his birthday…He was eighteen that day, and that meant he was an adult. That was kind of a weird thought. It also meant that he would have to get his driver's license turned in so he could get full privileges. That also meant that now he could legally own his own car—which of course, he already did…

Jade stayed in his room most of the day. He was tired from having gotten pretty much no sleep the night before, yet he still couldn't sleep and that worried him because he had yet another show that night. Jade got on his computer again and checked facebook. He had 21 more friend requests—19 of which were from people in Crement. Jade dismissed them all. Then he looked up "Runaway Love" by Ludacris and watched the music video for it. The song completely mellowed him out despite the fact that it was all about girls. But he knew exactly what the black rapper was talking about when he said, "wonders why she ain't pretty and nobody seems to like her. Alcoholic step-dad always wanna strike her." But the words that made Jade lie back and think for a while were, "stuck up in a world of her own, forced to think that hell is a place called home."

The words were so true, yet there were different ways to interpret them. "Stuck up" could mean conceited…or it could mean trapped. And was hell the home or was home the hell? Jade sighed. No matter which way the words were read, they were still true.

Then Jade straightened and got back onto Facebook. He decided to look up Stormline Monasco and see who the person was. To his surprise, the Stormline person appeared to have about three times as many facebook friends as Jade himself had. But when Jade went onto his profile page, he saw why. "Stormline Monasco" was the same person as "Raven Monasco," and Jade knew exactly who Raven Monasco was. He was probably the most famous actor that existed, and Jade was so surprised that for any amount of time he had been friends with this person, that for a long time, Jade just stared at the top picture—a picture of a silver Chevy Corvette.

Jade shrugged. Either way, he wasn't friends with him anymore. Still, it was so weird…Of course the guy lived in Crement, but the fact that he had shown up to the performance the night before was quite shocking to Jade…Somewhere among the common air-headed fans, another celebrity had been hiding. Jade didn't know that Raven was any more famous than himself. He could only imagine that he rejected more friend-requests than Raven did. But Jade didn't really care. He had never imagined a celebrity coming to one of the shows he performed in. He had always imagined it just being him and the air-headed fans as well as a few reporters.

"Hey, Jade!"

Jude Durrace's voice surprised Jade into a startled gasp. But he didn't turn around as Jude walked up to his bed and sat down on it. "What cha doin'?" Jude asked.

"Nothing," Jade said, minimizing his browser.

"Fine looking guy, that Raven fellow," Jude said, apparently having seen. "Nicely built and stuff…"

"Yeah, I know that," Jade said, annoyed.

"What?" Jude asked. "You want to look like him?"

Jude's question took Jade by surprise, and he didn't answer.

"Me too," Jude said as if Jade had. But then he raised two apples he held in one hand and dropped one beside Jade. "Look, I brought you an apple—because I knew you wouldn't come down and eat the free breakfast they serve here."

"What? You're expecting me to go down there and eat breakfast with every other hobo who happens to be staying in this **** hotel?"

"Sure," Jude answered. "I did." He took a bite of his own apple and then glanced back at Jade. "So what have you been eating, anyway?"

"Crackers," Jade answered dully.

"Crackers!?" Jude asked. "Breakfast, lunch, and dinner—crackers!?"

Jade shrugged.

"No wonder you're so thin!" Jude cried.

"Oh, shut up!" Jade said. He waved his hand at Jude. "And get off my bed!"

"You know being overweight isn't healthy," Jude said as he stood up off Jade's bed and sat down on the table beside it.

Jade reached out and quickly snatched his phone off the table beside Jude and dropped it onto the bed.

"So, I shouldn't be too much of the one to talk," Jude admitted, glancing down at himself.

"Yeah, Jude!" Jade exclaimed. "That's because you're always eating…"

"Always eating?" Jude said, tilting up his head, the apple still in his hand. He shrugged and then took another bite of it. "But," he continued on his previous subject. "Being underweight is far less healthy…"

"Yeah, so what?" Jade shrugged it off. "I'm not very underweight anyway."

"Jade, you are," Jude said. He leaned back slightly. "Oh…what should you be…hmmm…" But suddenly, he changed the subject. "Amber told me it's your birthday today."

Jade didn't answer, but inwardly he groaned.

"So happy birthday," Jude said. "How old are you now?"

"Thirty-two," Jade answered without the slightest trace of any expression on his face.

"Thirty-two…" Jude repeated thoughtfully. "Thirty-two?" he said, suddenly glancing up at Jade. "Is that what you said?"

"Yep," Jade answered simply.

"Wait a minute, you're like still a teenager, or something, aren't you?" he asked. He frowned. "You're trying to fool me."

Jade kept a straight face effortlessly and didn't answer.

"How old are you really?" Jude asked. "Or should I ask Amber?"

"Eighteen…" Jade said at last.

"Oh, so now you can legally get married," Jude said with a smile. "That's nice."

"What the ****?" Jade asked. "People get married younger than that—some people get married when they're twelve."

"Well, if they're younger than eighteen their parents have to sign the document," Jude explained.

"Oh," Jade said, suddenly glad he wasn't interested in getting married. But he was eighteen now, anyway. Whatever. What crazy person would want to get married before they were even eighteen?

"You really don't look eighteen," Jude said after a moment.

Jade let out a sigh.

"You look like you're thirteen, or something…"

"Well, I'm not," Jade stated clearly.

"But you're a cute little guy," Jude said. "A guy girls love—that Raven fellow is the type tough guys like. Not so much the girls. Or maybe just like the tough girls…or ordinary girls…I don't know…"

"Well somehow he has 1,798 friends on facebook that are girls," Jade read off. "And that's a little more than half his friends."

It took a moment for Jude to answer. He shrugged. "Yeah, ok, I'm wrong."

Jade sighed. "Everybody likes this guy…"

"Everybody likes you, too," Jude pointed out.

Jade shook his head. "My parents don't give a **** about me…"

"Oh, yeah, whatever. Well, I'm sure there are people who don't like the Raven fellow either." Jude stood up. "Well, I'll be going. See you later…" And with that, he abruptly left Jade's room and shut the door behind himself.

Jade let his head drop. Suddenly with all his heart, he wanted to be like Raven Monasco.

The show that night took far too much out of Jade. As he had feared, everyone knew he was turning eighteen that day and they all made a huge deal out of it. The concert was ok, but the show afterward was too difficult. After his fans discussed his age, they moved on to more private affairs and began asking him about his family. Jade found himself passing out lies as fast as he passed out autographs. They asked how old his sister was, where his father worked, why the press knew nothing about his mother…

Jade lost his ability to fake a smile and fans began to ask if something was wrong. Jade told different people different things because he could not remember what he had said last.

But finally it was over and Jade went back to his hotel room, falling asleep the moment he lay down.

The following morning, Jade found his shoulder was aching. But he didn't have the stomach to take anymore drugs for it. He got his things together and then got back on the Eclipse tour bus for the last time. At least now he could go home and maybe there…he could rest…

Chapter Four

Causeless

Jade was very tired when he was finally dropped off at the Tech building. But he decided to take the time to pick up his cat and bring her home. She could keep him company. So he got his cat, which, as he had been expecting, had been taken good care of by the lady who watched over everything Jade kept in the Tech building.

Then Jade began the long drive home.

The teenager didn't know exactly what he was expecting when he got home. Maybe he was too tired to think about it. Or maybe he had just been far away from home for so long, he had forgotten to worry about it…

But when Jade walked in through the front door, his gray cat in his arms, Mathew was sitting on the bottom step of the stairway drinking.

Jade instantly froze.

But it was too late to turn and run. Mathew was staring at him out of the corner of his eye. The drunk man carefully put his vodka bottle down on the floor and then, gripping the banister, he slowly rose. Jade silently, lowered the cat to the ground. As if sensing danger, she disappeared down the hall.

"So, now…the ***** is back…" Mathew said. "Where did he disappear to? Nobody knows. But he was gone a long time…"

"Dad…dad, I was on a tour…" Jade explained softly.

"A tour, huh?" Mathew asked. "Where's the money?"

"They haven't paid me yet—they never do until a week or two afterward," Jade said.

"Oh? Excuses?" Mathew asked. "Give me your money, boy—empty your pockets."

Jade hurriedly obeyed—His phone, keys, and about three hundred dollars in cash.

Mathew snatched up the bills and stuffed them in his own pocket. Then he picked up Jade's phone and threw it across the living room. Jade watched the device hit the carpeted floor and slide under the sofa.

"Come on, come on," Mathew said, suddenly walking up towards Jade and taking his shoulders. "What are you waiting for? What's the matter with you?"

"W-what?" Jade asked in confusion.

He was rewarded with a slap across the face. Mathew smiled and lifted Jade's hands playfully in his. "I didn't hurt you too much, did I? You know some times I hit harder than I mean to…"

Jade was silent. All he knew was that Mathew was definitely drunk.

"Alright, come here," Mathew said. He took Jade's wrist, completely unaware of the scars on it, and led the teenager over to the sofa. "Lie down," he said, pointing to the sofa.

But instantly a warning light flashed inside Jade's head. He began pulling away.

But just as suddenly, the playfulness was gone from Mathew's attitude. The alcoholic twisted Jade's arms brutally behind his back and threw him down on the sofa. "When I say lie, you lie!" he yelled and struck Jade in the face again.

Jade bit back silent tears of frustration, and didn't make a sound.

"There. Now turn over on your stomach," Mathew instructed.

Jade didn't move and was rewarded with another slap in the face. Mathew forcefully turned him over and then, without warning suddenly got down on top of Jade and began pulling up Jade's shirt.

The teenager screamed and began struggling, but on his stomach, he was nearly helpless. Mathew slipped a hand around Jade and gripped onto his waist. He pulled the teenager up close and began kissing his neck and shoulders.

Jade cried out in terror and tried again to break free. But in this position, Mathew had complete control over him. He felt his father's fingers probe all over his body.

And Jade couldn't faint. He couldn't block it out. He was awake and aware through the entire thing and when Mathew was done with him, Jade was left gasping for breath and dripping with sweat on the sofa.

His body ached and his shoulder was on fire. Jade slowly turned himself over onto his side and forced himself to breathe.

Then, slowly, he tried to drag himself to his feet. But suddenly he threw up, and dizziness and nausea forced him to lie down again. Fear rippled through his body and he worried that his father might return if he stayed there too long. Still, he didn't have the strength to rise. He needed help—he knew he needed help, but there was no one here who would help him. His sister would be scandalized and then blame him for just playing along with his father.

Jade again tried to get up, but again he found himself too sick to stay on his feet. Panic took him and he began hyperventilating. Unable to control his breathing or heart-rate, Jade's mind began to black out. But in a fleeting moment of clear thinking, he suddenly remembered that his father had thrown his phone—and it was right beneath him, under the sofa.

Jade leaned over and pulled his phone out. He lit up the screen and moved into the contact list. Jade's breath was taking the moisture out of his throat and he could hear himself rasping for breath. The sound panicked him further. He began scrolling mindlessly down the list of contacts, but then suddenly tapped the one that landed under his finger. He didn't know who it was, but the moment he heard the call received on the other end, he pleaded for help. The instant the words were out of his mouth, he had forgotten them. His mind suddenly blacked out and Jade dropped the phone.

The smartphone hit the floor face up. Its illuminated screen displayed the name "Michael Overwind".

Jade was shaken awake. He opened his eyes slowly, but for a long time, everything before him was a mixed blur, and he could not make out any real shapes. He felt sick to the stomach and dimly, he was certain that he had thrown up not long ago.

As his senses gradually came back, Jade realized that someone was holding him up into a sitting position. He could hear a familiar voice calling his name, but for several more minutes he was unable to identify who the speaker was.

"Alex, Alex, wake up, wake up," the person said, and shook him slightly.

And then suddenly Jade knew it was Shad Theton. He let his head drop and he shut his eyes again. What was Shad doing here?

"Alex, are you ok?" Shad asked softly.

"Yeah…I'm fine…" Jade whispered. It was the loudest voice he could manage for a bit. But then, as he raised his head again, he spoke a little louder. "What are you doing here, Shad?"

"You called Michael, Alex…remember?"

"I didn't," Jade said. He didn't remember who he had called but he was certain it wasn't Michael.

"You did, Alex," Shad said certainly.

"I would have…remembered if…it was him…" Jade said exhaustedly. "Besides, I've never called him before—never in my life…I never would…"

"Well you called him not long ago, Alex," Shad said softly.

"And then what? Then you showed up? What…did I say anyway?" Jade asked, dread sounding in his voice.

"You…uh…asked him to come or something…I'm not sure…he's here—you can ask him."

Jade's head shot up and to his horror he saw that Zach and Michael were standing nearby as well.

"You should go," Jade said, his tone suddenly changing. "You should all go. My dad's drunk—he hasn't gone to bed that I know of. You need to go before he finds out you're here."

"Uh…why should we let you stay here while we run away?" Michael asked. He was standing beside the TV, his arms crossed.

"Because it's not safe! He gets crazy when he's drunk!" Jade exclaimed.

"Yeah, Alex, we…we know that…" Zach said softly.

Jade looked up quickly at the oriental guy. "Then stop being buffoons and get out of here," Jade said darkly. "Look—I don't know why I called, ok? I don't really remember what happened, but I was…I was just being nuts, ok? It was a mistake. I'm sorry about the trouble, but this is not a time you should be here."

"Alex, the point is, we don't think you should be here either," Michael spelled out.

"I live here, Michael," Jade said seriously. "You guys don't."

"So?" Shad asked. He slowly let go of Jade and let the teenager lean back against the sofa. "How does that make you so different from us?"

"I said—" Jade said, his pretty copper eyes widening meaningfully. "I live here. I need to be here. You don't. You should go home before Dad finds out because if he does, we'll all get in trouble."

"Alex, don't you think it's time you get out of this place?" Zach asked. "Don't you think your dad is going a little too far? You got back just today. Probably not even so long ago…and already he's…done this to you?"

Jade was silent for a moment. His fingers played with the material of his jeans for a moment. Then slowly, he looked up. "I don't know what I looked like when you came here," he said, and his voice was so soft it was barely audible. "I don't know what you know…or what you don't know…All I'm asking…is that you leave this house, and forget anything you saw today…"

"Alex, we aren't news broadcasters," Shad said suddenly. "You're our friend, and we can't just sit back and watch this happen to you!"

"You know, Shad, I'll get used to it, ok?" Jade said. "If this is what he wants to do now, he can do it. I'll just adapt."

Shad shook his head. "No, Alex. I'm not going to let you do that."

"It's not just that it's uncomfortable, Jade," Michael put on. "It's wrong. It's downright wrong."

Jade bit his lip and stared at the floor. Then, suddenly he stood up and started for the kitchen. But he stopped in the entrance and turned back briefly. "Go home!" he yelled. Then he disappeared into the kitchen.

"So we're going to…let this go on?" Zach asked softly from the corner of the living room.

Shad shook his head slowly. "No. No, this has got to stop. We have to…to take things into our own hands if he…won't…"

"I don't want to hurt him," Michael said suddenly. "I mean, it seems like anything that happens to Mathew Leeman, he's gonna take out on Jade."

"I don't care," Shad said. "This ends here. I wouldn't even care if Jade went to jail so long as his father can't abuse him like this anymore. He would be far safer in a jail than he is here, and he wouldn't even go to jail. I just want this to end. I can't keep watching him fall apart like this."

Long after they were gone, Jade left the kitchen and silently went upstairs to his room. To his surprise, his gray cat was sitting on his bed. Jade silently shut the broken door to his bedroom and then walked over to his bed and sat down beside his cat. Feeling subdued, Jade began petting her and scratching her the way he knew she liked it. He wasn't in the mood to get in a fight with his cat. Then Jade lay down and tried to sleep.

But the cat fell asleep long before Jade did. Inside, Jade feared that he would never get used to his father using him. This would never become something that was ok. Everything else, Jade had grown fairly used to—being beaten, thrown around, cussed at, and blamed. But this struck him to the heart as worthless. He didn't know what humans were made of that they thought they were above this, but whatever it was, he had not become an animal enough to not have any of that material left in him. Yet, it was all foolish, because obviously, he was not above this. He didn't want it to happen but staying home was worth this price as if it didn't really matter to him. Or maybe…the last clinging remainder of his torn family was just so expensive, it made it worth the pain.

That night, Jade was left alone. He stayed up late worrying that his father might come for him, but Mathew did not. He was solidly drunk and he never left his bedroom.

Jade spent the second half of the night sleeping as peacefully as his hurting shoulder would allow.

The following morning, Jade knew he had to go to school. He had to take finals. Just thinking about going to school to take finals wore him out. He hadn't studied at all, and whenever he did poorly on a final, his teachers always made it their duty to yell at him.

And, Jade realized, this was the last set of finals he was supposed to take. He was supposed to graduate high-school after this…But Jade already knew he wouldn't. Still, fearing discipline for failure, Jade spent the early morning trying to study. But his disturbed mind would not stay focused and the moment he read something, he had forgotten it again.

Jade didn't even try to get ready for math. He was terrible at math and no matter how much time he put into it, the grade would be no different.

Then, dread making him nauseous, Jade left for school.

The situation was hopeless. After he had handed in the first two finals, Jade stopped trying. He didn't know anything. He would fail as usual…but it didn't matter. There was no way he could do any better.

Jade also found that every teacher in the school had heard about how he had "attacked Luke Sunthrow." None of them were happy about it, and Jade found he was suddenly highly discriminated against. Two teachers wanted to detain him, another wanted to confiscate his weekend, and after a long discussion, it was decided he would see the principal at 9:00 that evening.

Jade guessed randomly on the remainder of his finals. He sat in his car during lunch hour. Then he finished taking finals and found a bench in the school hallway to wait until 9:00.

The school slowly emptied out. A group of boys passed by—they were obviously talking about him, but they acted as if he wasn't there.

Jade pulled out his phone and used mobile data to Google "Raven Monasco." He found a picture he liked and set it as his phone wallpaper. Raven was a very good-looking guy…

At 8:03, Jade texted his sister that he would be back late—sometime around ten, maybe.

And then, someone walked up to Jade.

The teenager looked up quickly. It was Luke Sunthrow.

"Jade Leeman…you failed the exam…Mr. Falexhem wants to know if you're taking summer school," Luke said tonelessly.

"No," Jade said without even considering the question.

"No, you're not taking summer school?" Luke asked.

"No, I'm not," Jade clarified.

"Then what are you going to do?" Luke asked. "Go to another school? You can't just re-do the whole year."

"I'll drop out," Jade said dully.

Luke shrugged. "Have it your way, jerk. I guess it's not like the law's gonna catch you." With that, he walked away.

Jade sighed. Would he really drop out? Forfeit all the years of school he had completed? With a crushed sigh, Jade decided that was what he would do. He couldn't take all his subjects in summer school at the same time and keep up with Eclipse. It was impossible to go on. Why did he need to finish high-school anyway? He could just duck out and chances were, he would never be noticed…Still, it was yet another failure and it bore down deeply on Jade.

Jade was never called to the principal's office. The principal didn't have time for him that night and told him to come back the following night. Jade ended up getting home long passed eleven that night.

Jade woke with a startled gasp when Mathew grabbed him firmly by the shoulder. At first, in his mind's haze, Jade was not sure if he was awake or dreaming, but when Mathew lay down beside the teenager, there was no longer a question.

Jade stiffened. He couldn't help it. His body always prepared as if he would fight back…and in a time not so long ago, Jade had fought back…

Mathew slipped his hand up under Jade's shirt and the teenager felt his father's fingers playing over the surface of his skin.

"***, you're so soft like a baby…" Mathew said through the dark.

Jade shut his eyes tightly and tried to relax.

Mathew began running his fingers through Jade's hair. Then he turned Jade's face toward him, and wrapping his arm around his son to pull him closer, Mathew began kissing Jade on the mouth.

All Jade's efforts to stay calm dissolved and he went rigid again.

Mathew leaned closer, his mouth still on Jade's and began feeling Jade's body again.

Slowly, Jade began suffocating. He was unable to breathe with Mathew so close.

Mathew pulled Jade's shirt up and then finally took his lips away.

Jade turned quickly back toward the wall.

Mathew began massaging Jade's exposed skin. "You're so like a girl, Jade…That's why I like this…you're so like your mother…" He closed his arm around Jade's waist and pulled him closer. "I think you are female…you're too female to be male." Mathew leaned forward and kissed Jade on the back of his neck. "Don't be scared," he said. "It won't hurt."

Yet when Mathew was done, tears were streaming down Jade's face as if he had been branded for the second time. But Mathew did not leave. He wrapped his arms around Jade's waist tightly so the teenager could not move any further away and then went to sleep where he was.

Jade couldn't sleep. Once, he dared to try to move Mathew's arms, but his father woke up, slapped Jade in the face and then pulled the teenager closer and abused him again.

When morning came, it happened a third time and then finally Mathew left.

Jade was weak with crying and no sleep. He slipped off his bed and pulled his shirt down. He needed a shower, but he was far too tired to take one. Instead, he crawled under his bed and slid to the very back so that he lay against the wall. Still with tears streaming down his face, Jade cried himself to sleep.

Jade woke up to his phone vibrating. He felt better after having slept, but serving as his father's pleasure toy the entire night before still bore down hard on Jade's mind and heart. The teenager crawled out from under his bed and picked up his phone from the table beside his bed. An unknown number had texted him, "Are you Jade Leeman?"

Probably a fan who had somehow gotten his number from who-knows-where. Jade dropped his phone back onto the table.

Jade walked slowly over to his closet and found some fresh clothes. Then he left his room to take a shower.

That evening, however, as Jade went quietly down to the kitchen to find something to eat, he ran into his father again.

Mathew grabbed Jade by the shirt and without warning threw him against the wall.

"What the ****!?" Mathew screamed. "I was visited by a bunch of ****** cops today at the bar saying I was a child-abuser suspect! What the ****!?"

"I—I didn't do it!" Jade cried, wondering desperately who on earth would have leaked private information.

"Oh, you didn't do it, huh!?" Mathew yelled. He grabbed Jade away from the wall and then slammed him back into it.

The teenager blacked out for a moment but recovered himself as he hit the floor.

Mathew struck him in the face. "*****!" he yelled. "You're nothing but a piece of ****!" He kicked Jade in the ribs.

The teenager cried out in pain, and curled up into a protective ball.

Mathew kicked him again. "Now I'm gonna have some **** police investigating my life! So I'm gonna have to clean up, don't you think!?" Mathew again kicked him. "Clear out all the ****? Well, it's gonna start with you!"

Mathew reached out suddenly and yanked Jade up onto his feet, but then threw him against the wall again. "You have three days to pack up and leave, Jade! I'm sick of your ****** ****!"

"W—where am I supposed to go!?" Jade cried desperately.

Mathew slapped him the face. "On your own you **** ******! Get out in the real world and find out what it's like to fend for yourself! I'm sick of you feeding off me! You're out!"

"Please!" Jade cried. He dropped to his knees. "You can't do this to me! This is my home! You can't kick me out! Please—"

"*****!" Mathew cut him off and he struck his son in the face again.

"Please, I'll give you anything!" Jade screamed. "You can have all my income—you can have my body! Please, don't force me away! You're all I have!" Jade cried. He had never known that this meant so much to him, but now he did. The thought of leaving home and never being able to come back terrified him. He would never see his sister again, and despite the fact that hate lay between him and his father, Jade realized Mathew was still a part of him. He still vainly hoped that one day his father might look on him and smile with real love…

Mathew also seemed somewhat taken aback at Jade's plea. But he recovered himself quickly. "No," he said firmly. "You're out in three days. But I will take your body." Mathew yanked Jade up by the arm and dragged the teenager down the hall and into his bedroom. The door shut behind them.

For the second time, Mathew spent the night with his son. On and off he used Jade's body. The teenager, having slept little and eaten nothing the previous day, became unable to protest. Mathew helped himself to Jade's intimacy and wore the teenager to the ground both physically and emotionally. Jade cried when he had the strength, but most of the time he lay lifelessly and let Mathew have his way.

Chapter Five

Forced to Think that Hell is a Place Called Home

The following morning, Jade found himself still being held around the waist. But Mathew was asleep, one arm around his son and the other slipped up under Jade's shirt.

Silently, Jade sat up. His father's arms slid off him. For a long moment Jade stared down at his sleeping abuser. Then, slowly, Jade slipped off the bed and walked quietly out of his father's bedroom.

Jade went up to his own room and checked his phone. He had one missed call and the caller had left a message. He played it.

"Hey, this is…of course…Luke Sunthrow again…"

Jade dropped onto his bed.

"Well, first of all you had a date with the principal that you missed and you're expected to show your despicable face tomorrow morning in order to make things up…The second thing is…I have a friend who would like to talk to you, and I have the principal's permission to require you to meet him…so that's a 9:00 tomorrow morning, and you had better show up. Have a wonderful night."

Jade sighed. But being criticized senselessly was better than being completely ignored. At least someone knew he existed.

Jade stood up slowly and walked into the bathroom. But he didn't have the energy to take a shower despite the fact that he desperately needed on. He was soaked in sweat from the night before. Jade washed his face in the sink and then combed through his hair with his fingers. And then he left the house.

"I received complaints over bad behavior from several of your teachers," the principal explained dryly. "Leeman, this isn't the first time. What am I going to do with you?"

"Expel me," Jade answered lifelessly. His eyes were aimlessly pinned on the wood of the principal's desk.

"Leeman, what is the matter with you?" the principal asked suddenly. "You look half-dead and you smell like you ran a marathon before you came in here."

"I'm sorry," Jade said, but neither his face nor his tone portrayed any meaning to the words.

"Alright," the principal said, leaning back, impatience sounding in his voice. "Nevermind. I'll see you another time, I suppose. Luke Sunthrow would like to see you in his science class and when he's done with you, go home and take a shower."

Jade didn't answer. He stood up slowly and walked out of the room.

The door to the science class room was open and Jade could hear voices coming from within. But he didn't even try to decipher what they said. He walked into the entrance to the classroom where he could be seen and then stopped, his eyes on the floor.

"Ah, there you are," Luke Sunthrow said. The assistant teacher walked up to Jade and pulled him into the room. He shut the door behind the teenager.

Faintly, Jade felt the sensation of being trapped. But anything was better than being trapped with his father in a bedroom.

There was a tall, strongly built black man sitting at one of the desk chairs. Jade had never seen him before, but he barely glanced at him as he walked slowly in and then stopped, his eyes falling again to the floor.

"I'm Jackson Gillahend," the stranger introduced himself. But he didn't extend a hand as if he knew Jade wouldn't have shaken it.

Jade didn't answer.

"Luke, my friend here, has told me a lot about you, Jade," Jackson said.

Jade glanced at the stranger before him again, but then his eyes again slipped to the floor.

"You look tired," Jackson said after a moment. "Sit down."

"Will it be a while?" Jade asked, his voice weak and hoarse.

"Jade, I want you to sit down," Jackson said.

He hadn't answered the question. Maybe that was a forewarning. But being slapped in the face would not be as painful from a stranger as it was from his father. Jade silently obeyed.

"Now tell me, Jade…why do you want to drop out of school?" Jackson asked.

So that was it. That was why he had been called. "Why shouldn't I?" Jade asked, his voice still lifeless.

"Because you're throwing away your education that way," Jackson said.

"I don't need an education…I already have a job…" Jade said dully.

"Alright, then I'll tell you why you need to make it through highschool even if you already have a job," Jackson decided. "First of all, you don't want to be looked at like a dope the rest of your life. Especially being a celebrity, the fact that you didn't finish high-school is going to be something everyone knows. Secondly, you want to be able to do the work involved in high-school. You're going to want to be able to do the math and have an understanding of the way things work in science, physics, literature, and everything else. You're going to want to be able to write and read something with understanding. Thirdly, you don't know what's going to happen. Chances are, you're not going to be able to do music your whole life. You may lose popularity, your band may crash, you don't know."

Jade tilted his head slightly. "I don't care how people see me," he said, a cold hardness developing in his tone. "Because no matter how they see me, they never respect me. Everyone thinks I'm a piece of **** no matter what they do or don't know about me. And you know what? I don't care to understand other people, because nobody cares to understand me. When my band dies, I die with it." Jade's angered copper eyes stared directly back at Jackson's dark ones.

"If you think you're being disrespected, I don't think you know what disrespect is, Jade," Jackson said.

"Shut up!" Jade suddenly exploded. "You ****** don't know what disrespect means! Then you come and tell me that I don't know what disrespect is—"

"Cut out the language, Jade," Jackson said calmly. "If you have a point to make, you have a much higher chance of me listening to you if you don't use words like that."

"There's nothing wrong with ***** language," Jade said darkly.

"That's what you think," Jackson said. "Because that's all you've heard. All you heard is lies. That's all you've ever heard. You spit out lies, you breathe in lies, you live lies, and that's just the way you are. Well, here, we're going to act like civilized persons and we aren't going to cuss at each other."

Jade shut his mouth stubbornly.

"Jade, why do you think you know what disrespect is when you have people worshiping you?" Jackson asked after a moment.

"You're asking just because you want to prove me wrong!" Jade yelled. "You don't want to know—but I know! My father taught me was disrespect means! It's love without care! It's hate without a cause! It's fear of your own father!" Jade was left out of breath and he turned away and leaned heavily on the desk in front of him.

"Jade…" Jackson said, his tone suddenly changing.

Jade didn't turn. He heard Jackson rise from his chair and walk up beside Jade.

"Jade, what has your father done to you?" Jackson asked, his voice suddenly growing gentle.

"No—No—shut up!" Jade screamed. "You don't care! Just get lost! I want to go home!" The teenager put his head down on the desk.

"He's just dramatizing," Luke said from beside the teacher's desk. "I mean, he's hopeless. If he wants to mess up his life, let him."

"Jade…" Jackson said, ignoring Luke. "What has your father done to you?"

Jade forced himself to calm down. "Nothing…" he whispered.

"Are you messing up your life, Jade?" Jackson asked. "Or has it already been ruined? Is that why you're quitting school? You've given up?"

"There's…nothing to…give up on…anymore…" Jade whispered.

Jackson reached out slowly and touched Jade on the shoulder, but when the eighteen-year-old flinched, Jackson retracted his hand. "I won't hurt you, Jade…nor will I tell anyone," Jackson promised softly. "But I can see it's all stuck inside and you just need to get it out…you can tell me, Jade…we're not likely to ever see each other again…"

There was so much compassion in his voice, but Jade knew better than to believe him. He just wanted to worm his way in—just like everyone else. "There's nothing. Shut up and leave me alone," Jade ordered.

"It's true, Jade, I can see it," Jackson said.

"Well you're seeing something that isn't there!" Jade yelled, slamming his fist onto the desk.

"You're still intent on trying to deceive me?" Jackson asked.

"Man, what the ****!?" Jade screamed. "Can you not understand what I'm saying!? This is senseless! I want to go home!"

"Well you aren't going home until you can admit that you're lying," Jackson said. "I won't ask what's really going on, because I can tell you don't want to tell me, but you will tell me that you were lying or you're not leaving this room."

"I am not your captive!" Jade said, his voice tight.

"Don't be angry with me, Jade," Jackson warned. "I'm not the one who was lying."

"Let me go home," Jade said coldly.

"Not until you admit it," Jackson insisted. "Are you really that proud, Jade?"

"Shut up!" Jade yelled. "This has nothing to do with school!"

"Just admit you were lying," Jackson said certainly. "Then you can go home."

"Lying about what?" Jade asked. He seemed to give in slightly.

"When you said nothing was going on," Jackson spelled out.

Jade sighed, rolled his eyes, and then with his eyes on the desk in front of him, he spoke. "I lied," he said at last. There wasn't much he could do. Somehow this stranger knew, and all Jade wanted to do was go home a lie down.

"There, that's better," Jackson agreed. "You ok?"

For a moment, Jade's copper eyes met Jackson's dark ones again. Then Jade again lowered his gaze. "No," he said. His voice was very low.

"What's wrong?"

And then the first word was out. "My dad's forcing me out of the house," Jade said softly. "I need to leave in three days and I have nowhere to go."

"Why is he forcing you out?" Jackson asked.

"Dad doesn't…want me anymore…" Jade said softly. "He's taken everything, everything from me, and now he's going to take my home…"

"What has your father taken from you?" Jackson asked.

"I have…three days and nowhere to go…" Jade sighed. Why was he even saying this? Maybe it was just the voice…That voice that sounded so full of compassion. Jade suddenly started crying. He was ashamed that he was crying in front of a stranger, but he could not stop the tears. Besides, it was as Jackson himself had said. Jade wasn't likely to ever see him again.

"Is your father abusive, Jade?" Jackson asked suddenly.

"No, no—of course not," Jade said, forcing down his emotions. "He's just…he's just tired of me because I fail in everything…" Jade wiped his eyes with his sleeve and sighed. "Can I go home now?"

Jackson was silent for a while. But at last he nodded. "Alright Jade, but do you want me to help you? Do you want me to try to find a place for you to stay?"

Jade sighed. "Why? Why would you? You don't even know me. We just met for the first time today…"

"You're just a kid, Jade…and I think you need help," Jackson said gently.

"I don't…need any help. I'll make it on my own…Can I go?" Jade asked again.

"Give me your phone number, Jade," Jackson said. "Then you can go home."

Jade obeyed. But it was more because he wanted to go home than because he wanted Jackson to have his phone number. Then he silently left the room.

Luke and Jackson watched him go.

"I won't ask why you're so interested in him," Luke said in a soft voice.

Jackson walked over to the chair Jade had been sitting in and dropped into it himself. He folded his arms across his chest. "He needs help, Luke."

"He's a liar, Jackson. This is the type of person you want to help? Of all the people who need help?" Luke asked.

Jackson shook his head. "The poor you will always have with you, Luke…But Jade you will not."

"That the heck?" Luke asked, a grin sliding across his face. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"This one needs a lot of help, Luke. All I'm going to do is look for a good place for him to stay," Jackson answered, a slight smile playing across his lips.

"Well ok, just miles away from our apartment complex, ok?" Luke said, his face breaking into a wide grin.

"If he was closer, I think I could help him more," Jackson said.

"You feel sorry for him?" Luke guessed.

"I do. I think he's hurting…he's a teenaged celebrity," Jackson confirmed.

"What are you going to do?" Luke asked.

"I don't know…" Jackson said. "Maybe I'll call him later today…I want to give him some time…hopefully he'll go home and rest."

But Jade only went home to more abuse. He walked in the door and was instantly snatched by his father who dragged him to the bedroom again. Jade was too spent to even make a sound as he was thrown down onto the bed and the bedroom door was shut.

Mathew's arms were closed tightly around Jade's waist. He was still awake, petting Jade's exposed back. Every touch of his fingertips chilled Jade to the bone. He couldn't sleep while Mathew was still right beside him. It was getting dark and it would be night soon. Jade was going insane with exhaustion but fear and horror kept him awake.

"Come on, get a little closer," Mathew said, pulling Jade against himself. "I like when you're close…" He took Jade's chin in his hands and turned the teenager's face towards his. Then he was kissing Jade on the lips again. He half rose, taking Jade's face in both hands and got on top of the teenager, still kissing him. Finally, he was finished and he released Jade but then lay down beside him and replaced his arm around Jade's waist. "Stop shaking," he said. "Just relax and enjoy it…see? I love you." Then he was running his fingers up and down Jade's back again. His fingers climbed up to Jade's shoulders and rose up his neck, then went back down again.

But it wasn't satisfactory and a moment later, Mathew was using his son again. Jade was so tired, so sick of the forced intimacy. But he could do nothing. His strength was gone. He had eaten nothing for two days and soon he would have not slept for two nights. He wanted to die. This was too hard…too painful.

He was worth nothing.

The next morning, Jade was too weak to rise. When Mathew got up, he seemed to notice. He put his hand against Jade's forehead, but then shrugged and left the room—leaving his son sweaty, exhausted, starving, and heartbroken.

Jade fell asleep after his father left, but his sleep was feverish and fitful. Then, when the bedroom door opened again, Jade was instantly awake.

But it wasn't his father. It was Jenny. Jade watched her through fever-brightened eyes as she approached him. She looked horrified as she stared back at him. Silently, she reached out and touched his naked side. Jade flinched and she withdrew her hand.

"What is he doing to you?" Jenny asked in a whisper.

Jade did not answer.

"You look so…" She sat down on the bed beside him and pressed the back of her hand against the side of his face.

Jade closed his eyes and a tear ran down his cheek.

Slowly, Jenny drew back her hand. "You're…you're dying, Jade…" she said softly.

Jade's copper eyes slowly opened and he stared back at her, the void in his heart visible through his dull eyes.

"Jade…" Jenny said softly. She reached out and gently pulled the blanket over Jade's sweaty body. "Please don't…hurt yourself anymore…I think Dad has hurt you enough…"

Jade's blank stare made no response.

"You're going to die if you stay here, Jade…maybe…maybe very soon…" Jenny added.

Jade's lips moved, but he didn't make a sound.

Jenny sighed and slipped off the bed. She reached out toward Jade again as if to touch him, but instead she placed something beside him. Then she turned and left.

Jade watched her until the door shut behind her. Then slowly, his eyes moved to the object she had placed beside him. It was his phone. Jade sighed and shut his eyes again.

Jade woke again when his phone started vibrating. The noise at first scared him until he realized what it was.

He looked down at the screen and saw that his newest contact—Jackson Gillahend—was calling him. Jade slowly reached out and swiped the answer icon. Then he set his phone to speaker phone.

"Hello? Is this Jade?"

At first, the teenager did not answer.

"Jade? Is this Jade Leeman?"

"Yeah…" Jade said at last, in a voice as loud as he could muster.

"What's wrong Jade?" Jackson asked.

Jade sighed. "Nothing…" he whispered.

"Nothing? Jade, I want to talk to you, but you sound really tired…do you want me to call back later?"

"Now is good…if you call later, I may never respond…" Jade said in a lifeless voice.

There was silence on the other end for a while. Then, "Jade, do you mind if I talk to you in person?"

"No, but you might…" Jade said.

"Why is that?" Jackson asked.

"You don't want to know…" Jade whispered.

"Well, I have your address from Luke—do you want me to meet you at your house?" Jackson asked.

"That's the only place you could meet me…" Jade answered.

"Alright. Is now good or later?" Jackson asked.

"Later might be too late…" Jade answered.

"Ok, then I'll come now," Jackson decided. Then he hung up.

Jade sighed and lay back. Nothing mattered. He was going to die soon anyway…Jenny had said so, and that was all Jade wanted. To be dead…

But Mathew came back in not long afterward and began harassing Jade. He didn't lie down, but he poked and prodded the helpless teenager.

Jackson did not like the look of the neighborhood as he maneuvered his old Nissian Maxima through it. It seemed a strange place for the most famous member of the most famous rockband to live in…

But finding the house itself was not too difficult. Each house was numbered with a sign by the side of the road. Then Jackson turned off onto a long gravel driveway.

The house he came upon surprised Jackson even more. The place looked just a dilapidated as every other house in the neighborhood. The only car in sight was a familiar blue and white Mini Cooper, and that told Jackson he had come to the right place.

Jackson parked his car beside the Mini Cooper and then got out. The property was a crawling, tangled forest—but not thick enough so as to hide a run-down barn that peeked through the trees a little way away from the house.

Jackson walked up to the front door and pressed the door bell button. A faint clicking sound emanated from the button like the sound a disconnected circuit might make and Jackson decided he would try knocking.

But there was no answer.

Suddenly feeling suspicious, Jackson tried the door. It was unlocked. Carefully he pushed the door open and looked inside. There was a living room. The carpet looked like it had once been fine but was now worn down and covered with patches of untamed mold. The furniture was also run-down.

A kitchen was visible off to the side. But there was no one in sight.

Jackson pulled out his phone and was about to text Jade when suddenly, out of the corner of his eye, he saw someone coming down a stairway to the side. He looked up quickly. It was a girl.

"Uh…who are you?" the girl asked.

"I'm Jackson Gillahend, I'm looking for Jade," Jackson explained, slipping his phone away.

"Oh," the girl said. "He in trouble or something?"

"No, I came to talk to him. I called him a little while ago, and he said I should come over now. Where can I find him?" Jackson asked.

"He said you could come over now?" the girl asked. She shrugged, then pointed down a hallway to the left of the living room. "First door down the hall," she said.

Jackson nodded and started for the hall. But something inside went off as a warning…something about the way she spoke…

The door was shut. Jackson waited a moment, mentally debating what he should do. Then, finally, he raised his hand and knocked.

There was no answer.

The girl appeared in the hallway a little away and she leaned against the wall and watched him.

Jackson turned toward her. "He's in here?" he asked.

"Oh, yeah," Jenny said with a reassuring nod. "He hasn't left."

"Look, if this isn't a good time, then I can come back later," Jackson offered suddenly.

"No, no, this is the best time," Jenny said certainly. "You can just open the door. He's not likely to answer it."

Jackson glanced at her twice, but then slowly, he turned the knob and opened the door.

What he saw made him freeze. Jade was lying lifelessly on the bed, his shirt was sweat-soaked and pulled up above his waist. His hands and face were as pale as snow, and he was obviously unconscious.

The girl appeared beside Jackson looking in.

"What—what happened?" Jackson asked.

The girl shrugged. "Don't ask me," she said.

"Why? Because you don't know or because you just don't want to say?" Jackson pressed.

"Neither—it's because you don't want to know," the girl answered smartly.

"Well, as a matter of fact, I do want to know," Jackson said, turning to face her.

The girl shrugged again. "Dad's been sleeping with him."

"What?" Jackson demanded, taking a firm hold of the girl's shoulder.

"Yeah—he's raped him—if you can even call it rape. Dad is sick, ok?" She tried to shake free, but Jackson didn't let her go.

"Where is your father now?"

"He left for the bar," the girl answered. "He'll be gone for a while."

Jackson gestured toward Jade. "How long has this been going on?"

"Well he slept with him last night—and I think the night before that…But most times he just goes in and then goes back out," the girl answered.

Jackson released the girl and then strode quickly into the room.

"He's gonna die," the girl called in after him. "It's no use trying to help him. He won't eat and he doesn't sleep until he's fainted. So don't try to help him."

"You're his sister, aren't you?" Jackson asked.

The girl shrugged, then nodded.

"Then you have a responsibility for him, and you should be the very last person to say something like that," Jackson said darkly. He gently turned Jade onto his back and swept the teenager's sweaty hair out of his face. Then, he felt Jade's forehead. The teenager looked dead—but Jackson could feel a weak heartbeat and he was still breathing.

Finally, Jackson gently lifted Jade off the bed and carried him out of the bedroom and into the living room. The teenager was incredibly light, even for his size, and Jackson had no trouble taking him into the living room and placing him on the sofa.

"Does he have another shirt somewhere?" Jackson asked, glancing at the girl.

She nodded and then disappeared up the stairs.

Jackson walked into the kitchen and after searching in the kitchen for a little, he found a cup. Then he filled it with water and carried it back over to where Jade lay lifelessly.

Jackson pulled Jade up into a sitting position, and then, laying the teenager's head against his arm, he pried open Jade's mouth and then lifted the cup up to his lips.

Jackson was able to pour water into Jade's mouth and manually force the teenager to swallow without receiving any response from him.

The girl came back down the stairs and handed Jackson a black tee-shirt.

Jackson placed the shirt down on the sofa and then gently began pulling off the ripped, sweat-soaked one Jade wore. Jackson managed to pull off the old one and put on the new one, but still there was no response from the teenager. Jackson poured a little water from the cup into his hand and gently began running his fingers through Jade's hair.

And then slowly, the teenager began to revive. The revival was very slow, but finally, Jade's heart-rate began to accelerate. A little color returned to his face, and slowly, Jade's eyes opened. A little gasp escaped his lips when he saw Jackson, but when Jackson leaned him against the sofa and took his hands away, the teenager seemed to relax.

"Jade, can you eat something?" Jackson asked softly.

Jade stared up at Jackson and didn't answer.

"Do you want to drink?" Jackson offered.

Still, Jade didn't answer.

"Jade, you need to get out of here, alright? I'm going to take you to my apartment. Is that ok?" Jackson asked.

Jade made no response.

But when Jackson placed his hands on Jade's shoulder to pull him to his feet, the teenager cried out and shrank away.

"Jade, it's alright, I won't hurt you," Jackson promised. He pulled Jade up and then, with his arm around the teenager, led him out to his car.

Chapter Six

Rock Bottom

Jade didn't like staying in Jackson and Luke's apartment. But he didn't have a choice. For two weeks he was too weak to take care of himself. Letting Jackson touch him was torture, but he couldn't stop him. Fever burned his body and ravaged his mind. Trauma kept him awake for hours on end at night. He feared what Jackson might know, but the black man never spoke of it, if he did know.

But Jackson wanted Jade to live in the apartment at least until a better place could be found. He was given his own room and although he had no strength to even walk around in it, Jackson and Luke gave Jade privacy in that room. They never went in unless he said they could—and it was always Jackson who came in, anyway.

Before the three days were up, Jackson went back to Jade's house and picked up everything his sister said was his and then left it in neat stacks by the wall for the teenager to organize when he felt better.

But Jade was slow to mend. He was sick to the heart. The last time he had seen his father was the same time he had felt his father probing his body. He had never said goodbye to his sister…and now that he was dropping out of school, he may never see her again—he may never even see his friends again. They had presumably graduated and would leave home for college or some other new start in life. Jade felt alone and forgotten about. But wasn't that the way it had always been? Now he didn't even have a home to hold onto. He had nothing. If there was really a rock bottom, then Jade was lying on it. But maybe there just was no bottom and he would keep falling forever…

He was living with strangers—no, one stranger and one person certainly didn't like him.

But there was no escape. He would go on—perhaps forever. He had Eclipse and he had drugs. He only had to get well and perhaps he could get back up on his feet—this time stand alone. He would have to make a new life for himself out of the ashes of the old one. He didn't have another choice. Life was like a wheel that kept spinning. Either you ran with it or you were dragged down into the past with its constant motion. And Jade's lighthouse had gone out. He was alone in the dark.

The End

Sequel

Book Three:

Broken Angel