Michael emerged from his room maybe half an hour after he went in: much sooner than I'd expected, really. He was scowling, but tried to smile when he entered my room. He wiggled his toes in the carpet, a sure sign that he was nervous, and leaned against the doorframe joining our rooms.

"Hey Davis?" he said, head cocked slightly to the side, chin pointed slightly inwards towards his chest. He wanted something.

"Yes?" I asked. I tried to sound as neutral as possible--I didn't want to scare him back into his room, after all--but I'm pretty sure that at least some of my annoyance and confusion slipped through. I'll be the first one to admit that I'm really not that great at masking my emotions, so it was inevitable.

"I just wanted to say that I'm sorry about the way I acted earlier," Michael began, "And... I wanted to ask you a favor."

I wanted to say 'no', but there was no way that I could, and I knew it. It didn't matter what favor he was going to ask of me: unless it was impossible, I'd be doing it.

I sighed quietly but nodded. "Go ahead."

The smile on Michael's face looked a little less forced, and he took a few more steps into my room. "Thank you. I was just wondering if you could give me a ride to Jezzabelle's apartment sometime before break's over. I thought I had her number written down somewhere, but I can't find it, and I don't have it memorized. It might be at my parents' place, but... I really don't want to go back just to look for something that might not actually be there."

"I don't blame you," I said softly. "Of course I'll give you a ride." I briefly considered whether or not to actually finish what I wanted to say, then decided that if the opportunity had presented itself, I'd be an idiot to ignore it. "Would you mind if I went in with you, though, and met Jezzabelle?"

Michael shook his head. "I don't mind. I was going to suggest it, actually. You should probably meet her, and I know that she'll just make me bring you back another time if you don't come in with me."

"When should we go, then?" I asked. "And are you sure she won't mind us showing up unannounced?"

I don't know why I asked him that. Michael was one of the most considerate people I'd ever met. There was no way that he'd impose on someone unless he had to--and if he'd considered it an imposition, he'd have warned me. Questioning his decision was rude and pointless.

"She won't mind," Michael insisted. "And we can go whenever is convenient for you. We can go now, if you'd like."

I thought about it. On the one hand, I was practically dying to meet this mysterious Jezzabelle who apparently had so much impact on--and power over--Michael, so sooner was better. On the other hand, I wasn't sure if I was ready yet. I'd learned a lot about Michael's past all at once, and just absorbing it all was hard enough. I'd met two people that had once been a major part of his life--was I ready to meet more of them? Would I blow up on Michael if I didn't have time to pull myself together before meeting a woman he said owned him?

"Not now," I said. "I need to do a lot of thinking before I meet anyone else." Michael nodded his understanding. "Soon, though, like you said. Maybe tomorrow."

"All right. Thank you, Davis," Michael said, and turned. I lunged forward, unthinking, and put one hand on his shoulder.

"It looks like you've probably got some thinking to do, too," I said, "but would you be willing to do it in my room? I'm afraid we'll both end up just brooding if we're alone."

I was also afraid that I'd talk myself out of everything: not just meeting Jezzabelle, or giving Michael a ride to her place, but all of it. I was in no position to judge Michael's relationships with other people--not when my not-quite-ex had tried to kill himself, possibly because of me--but that still didn't make me comfortable with what I'd learned about Michael's past.

"Sure," Michael said, reaching up to place his hand on mine. He stepped backwards, slowly, until his body thumped gently against mine, and I wrapped my free arm around his waist. "I'm just surprised that you still want me to share your bed after... Everything." His voice got softer. "A lot of guys--most guys--would think I'm a complete freak, and not want anything to do with me. They'd have dumped me after that kiss from Jet, for sure."

"Let it go, Michael," I said tiredly, letting my head drop forward and collide with the back of his. His hair was soft and silky, just like always, but this time it seemed more comforting than usual. I was pretty shaken up, I guess, and taking as much reassurance as I could, from whatever I could. "I'm trying my best to stay open-minded. Don't make me change my mind before I've even gotten all the info I need, okay?"

His shoulders slumped. "Of course," he said. "I'm sorry. Let me go get ready for bed and I'll be right back." He tugged free of me and left the room, his movements as small and subdued as his voice had been. Part of me felt bad about that, but another part of me was relieved that I wouldn't have to spend the rest of the night arguing when all I wanted to do was hold Michael and think until I fell asleep.

I ran my own shower long and hot, and by the time I was out, Michael was already in bed, sheets and blanket pulled up to his chin, waiting. He looked up when he heard me, and smiled shakily. "Hey," he said. One corner of his mouth twitched, but he didn't quiet manage a smile.

"Hey," I said, and didn't smile either. I walked over and slipped under the covers next to him. He moved closer, hesitantly, but stopped just short of touching me. I sighed and pulled him the rest of the way. "Stop stressing out, Michael. I may not be happy with all this, but that doesn't mean I'm about to kick you out of my room. I asked you to stay with me tonight, remember?" I pressed my lips against his, just a brush of a touch. It took him a long time to respond, and the kiss didn't last for more than a few seconds, but at least it was something.

Michael made a soft, choking sound somewhere in the back of his throat and cuddled into my chest. His breaths came a little faster, and I felt hot tears hitting my bare skin. "I want to stay here with you, you know," he muttered, a little hiccup breaking the flow of his words. "There's nothing I want more."

I thought I felt something twist inside my chest, his voice sounded so sad. He sounded as scared and sad as he had the night we'd first met, and I didn't understand why. "You are staying here, Michael. I want you to, and so does my family. We all love you. Why would you doubt that?"

"I don't," Michael protested brokenly. "I know you all love me, and I love all of you, too. I just... It's Jezzabelle. I don't know what she'll do. What she'll make me do. That's why I have to get to her and explain. I need to make her understand, before Jet gets to her."

I had so many questions to ask about that, but only bothered to ask the most pressing of them. "What would happen if Jet gets to her first? What could she do to make you leave here when you want to stay?" I could feel panic rising in my chest, but struggled to keep my words as calm and even as possible. I didn't want to make things worse.

"He'll tell her about you," Michael said. "And if she gets it into her head that she wants me back... Even once she sees how happy I am, she'll insist that I'll be happier with her. She's... Very stubborn. There's no changing her mind once she's made it up, she'll see how good you are for me before she can make up her mind to do anything but accept our relationship." He sniffled, and I didn't feel any more tears, which made me feel less guilty about pressing him further.

"You ignored my other question, Michael," I said. I felt his back stiffen. "What could she do to make you leave us if you don't want to?"

"If she managed to get me away for long enough, I don't think I'd be able to leave her again unless you forced me to. And I don't think that would be a good idea. She'd cause trouble."

I didn't respond until I was sure that I wouldn't sound angry. "Michael, I know that you're trying to explain this to me, but I still don't understand. Please, please try one more time to tell me what went on, or what's going on, between you and Jezzabelle, okay? Please. Start from the beginning, if you can. You said you met her when you were sixteen?"

"That's right," Michael said. "I was a mess back then: a real mess, worse than you've ever seen me, but all the time. I was trying to find a way to escape my family, like my brother did. I was hanging around outside bars, hoping to find someone with enough influence to bring me in with them, even though I looked like the kid I was. I thought getting drunk would help, but it didn't. It never did. And that's how I met Jezzabelle."

"She snuck you into a bar?" I interrupted, even though I knew I shouldn't. I felt Michael tense up again.

"No, she didn't. She found me in a bar, drunk and sitting alone in a corner booth because the guy I'd gone in with had left with someone else. I was making a scene, although I don't remember why, and she came over to see what the fuss was about. She had another woman with her--Angel--and they sat with me, talked with me. Angel lectured me about underage drinking and Jezzabelle asked if I'd driven to the bar myself. I hadn't, since I didn't have a car. I'd caught a ride with a neighbor. She volunteered to drive me home, and I asked if I could stay with her instead."

I could hardly believe what Michael was saying. I mean, yeah. Tons of underage teenagers drink all the time. I've done it, and almost all my friends have done it. I just never thought about the possibility that Michael had, too. And I certainly had never thought that he'd be the type to get plastered with a bunch of strange older guys. I had no right to feel hurt, because he didn't even know me back then; I had no right to be disappointed with him, because his behavior wasn't worse than a lot of people I'd been friends with at the time; but I was hurt and disappointed anyways. I decided to skip the lecture that was hovering on my tongue--this Angel girl may have had the right idea--and decided to stick with a safer question.

"Michael, she was a complete stranger. Why on earth did you want to stay with her? What if she'd been some sort of bar-cruising cougar?" I said.

"Jezzabelle made me feel safe, even though I'd just met her, and safety has always been high on my list of priorities," Michael replied. "And she had Angel with her. You won't understand until you've met her--you can't understand--but... She's the best person I've ever met, Davis. She's incredible. She's the closest thing to a real angel I've ever seen. There's no way she'd have stayed with someone who was bad. I knew I'd be okay with her around; I couldn't say the same thing about my safety if I went home."

I had my doubts about Angel being as perfect as Michael made her sound, but he had a point about going home, so I kept my mouth shut on the subject. "Okay. So what'd she say when you asked to go with her?" I said instead, curious despite my misgivings about the woman.

"She said yes, but only because I was such a mess, and was so insistent that I didn't want to go home. So I went home with her, and spent the night on her couch. Jezzabelle and Angel were so nice the next day, too. Angel made breakfast, and then we talked about poetry while Jezzabelle played the piano. I had never felt so at-home with anyone, anywhere, so of course I accepted when Jezzabelle invited me back the next weekend."

"How much older than us is Jezzabelle?" I asked, trying not to sound as suspicious as I felt. Unsurprisingly, it didn't work very well.

"It's rude to ask a lady's age," Michael replied sharply. "She's not that much older. Besides, I could tell that she was inviting me mainly because Angel and I got along so well. And, before you ask, Angel is only two years older than us."

"One second. I have one question before you get back to your story. What's the relationship between Jezzabelle and Angel? You haven't told me yet," I pointed out.

"They're best friends and lovers," Michael said. "May I continue?" I nodded, and he did. "I visited them every weekend for several months. Angel became my best friend. She was like the sister I never had, and Jezzabelle... I don't know how to explain the role Jezzabelle came to play in my life. She was what I always thought a mother should be like, only she was as strict as every stereotypical father-figure I'd ever come across in books or movies. It made me feel special and, in a way, almost invincible. Bad things could happen when I was at school. They did happen when I was at home. But when I was with Jezzabelle and Angel, everything was wonderful."

I hated to admit it even to myself, but I was beginning to understand why Michael was so devoted to this mysterious woman of his. I'm not saying that I was okay with her, or that my curiosity was satisfied. I'm definitely not saying that I thought Michael's description of her was completely accurate. But if even most of what Michael said about Jezzabelle was true, and given what I knew about Michael's family, well... His loyalty to Jezzabelle was making more and more sense. I said as much to Michael.

"I'm glad," he said. "I was friends with Angel and Jezzabelle for almost a year before the dynamic between Jezzabelle and me changed, and drastically." He yawned, and I felt a yawn of my own slip out to join his in the quiet air of my bedroom. "But I'm exhausted now. Would you mind if I finish explaining in the morning?"

I yawned again. "Not at all," I replied. "Just don't try to back out of it at the last second. Not that I think that you'll try to back out," I added. "I just wanted to ensure that I was perfectly clear, that's all."

Michael nodded. "Of course. I'll finish explaining first thing in the morning, after breakfast, and then we can go and visit Jezzabelle and Angela."

"Perfect," I said, already drifting asleep. It wasn't long until I was out of it, taking comfort in Michael's body pressed close to mine. It was nice, and soon I was sleeping deeply.