Nick walked down the street, lugging the heavy bag of groceries in one hand. The thin plastic strained under the weight of its contents, the heaviest being two massive containers of milk, which forced the bag to swing and smash into his leg every few steps or so. He didn't even notice the pain and continued to walk as a massive hound leapt against the steel fence to his right and snapped its slavering jaws. Its demonic bark nearly deafened him from its proximity and the young man shook his head in a daze. The monster dog bayed again and scratched at the edges of its prison with thick twisted claws, yanking against the metal chain around its neck, keeping it from surmounting the wire.

Most people would have been frightened and hurried off down the sidewalk, but this person held no fear for the beast and merely gazed at it in concern. He could see how mud and spittle matted the dog's rusty red coat, which was already losing patches around the rump and back legs. Its neck looked chafed and there were shallow scars where the choke chain had dug into its tight-skinned throat. Nick felt even worse for the dog as he stared into the filthy hovel where it was being kept. Garbage and chips of glass littered the ground around it, leading up to a set of dilapidated steps, no doubt connected to an equally destitute domicile.

Taking one last look at the dog's green eyes, which were glazed in fury, he shifted the grocery bag into his other hand and continued on his way. The shaking of the metal fence and the ferocious howls of the dog echoed behind him. They were soon answered by even more dejected howls as the rest of the dogs in the vicinity sought to send out their own threats or mournful cries. He heard a few voices scream out obscenities to the beasts, followed by the shattering of glass, probably thrown by an angry denizen. Most of the sounds faded in its wake.

Shadows swept through the young man's indigo eyes from beneath his heavy black bangs as he shivered slightly and increased his pace. Even after almost two years living of living there, he still hadn't gotten used to city life. It was too noisy and vicious and had an aura that seemed to make him feel that everybody was out to get each other. There was so much anger here. It felt like there would come a time when all that rage and furor and grief would get to be too much and something would have to give. Someone would have to die.

Too bad, that time had a way of showing up at least once a week. He often heard about the deaths on the evening news. It was the only television program worth watching since everything else was just an illusion to help cover up the cruel reality of the outside world. Television was supposed to be an escape. What was the point of escaping from reality when it just dragged one back in the end? It even had a way of occasionally punishing one for trying to avoid its existence. It was better just to accept the truth about the world and find some reasonable means of making one's way through it.

In about ten minutes, the young man reached a small apartment. He had been lucky to find this place. It was much nicer than most of the others around there, even if it did have a few broken windows and a shoddy heating system. He reached into his pocket, withdrew a set of keys and used one of them to unlock the main entrance. Once inside, he began to scale the three flights of stairs that would take him to his section of the apartment. Nick knocked on the door and waited for a few minutes.

His roommate always locked the door throughout the day, even if he was home. It was almost night now so Nick was sure that the other would be inside, watching television and downing shots. Yet the familiar smell of acrid smoke and the distinct pungency of alcohol were missing this night.

Bothered by this fact, he used the other key to unlock the door and walked into the front room. The lights were all turned off and he had to flick a switch in order to find his way to the kitchen without catching his foot on the stiff wooden floor. He really needed to buy a new rug for it. The floor had been bare since his roommate had managed to pour beer all over it three months ago in a fit of rage. It wasn't like he could have stopped him. After all, this place had originally belonged to the other figure and he had been kind enough to let him share the residence until he could find one of his own. All he had to do was help pay rent, which he managed by working four days a week at a local dance club, selling food and the pathetic choice of nonalcoholic beverages.

Nick looked at the table in the center of the kitchen and saw that it hosted a small pile of letters, today's mail. From the neat condition of the pile, he assumed that his roommate hadn't looked through it yet. Changing the direction of his gaze to the refrigerator, he found the reason for this neglect. Attached to the side of the bottom door was a blue piece of stationary with some words scribbled across its surface in clean handwriting.


Had to go see about another job tonight. Sorry I can't help you with your Psych term paper right now. Maybe we can work on it tomorrow before class. I got bored and made some lasagna earlier. There's plenty left in the fridge if you want to heat it up. Don't bother to wait up for me. I could be late.


So that's why his roommate wasn't home. He had gone to look at another prospective business offer. Nick hated his roommate's odd jobs, especially the ones that resulted in him coming back with black eyes and bruises. Sadly, he knew there was nothing he could do about the other's lifestyle. Christian had been living like this ever since he had met him and he was sure that no desperate advice from him was going to dissuade the other from his ways. Why would a twenty-one year old listen to a nineteen-year-old? Nick understood. He had never listened to his younger friends either; even if what they said made perfect sense. It was hard to change once one fell into a pattern. Christian had already developed his pattern and seemed to be at peace with it, no matter how dangerous it was.

He was somewhat upset that his roommate wasn't around. Christian's absence meant that their nightly session would have to be canceled tonight. It also meant that he wouldn't be able to start the questioning for once. Great. He had the perfect subject for this evening too.

Sighing, he returned to the table and sifted through the mail, noting the scattered bills and junk mail. At the very bottom of the pile was a letter with the seal of a university followed by the words: 'To Mr. Christian Delcroix' in the middle. His eyes lit up when they fell upon the letter and he lifted it from the rest of the pile, taking pride at seeing the familiar symbol of his school on the envelope. Not usually one to open his roommate's mail, Nick set the letter back on the pile and fixed the lasagna that Christian had prepared that night. He hit the replay button on the answering machine as he sat down to eat.

"Christian, this is Aunt Joan. You said you would call me about your application into that school. A friend of mine said that most of the letters received in January should have gotten responses by now. I'm excited to know if you got in. I'm sure you did. You always were such a talented boy. So devoted to your studies.

"I really wish you would call once in a while. It's been so long since any of us have heard from you. We want to know how you're doing in the city. I've heard it's dreadfully dangerous up there with all those murders and robberies and God knows what else. I still think you should consider coming back down here to live. I could find you a nice place in our neighborhood. You might even be able to stay with your roommate. It seems that you two get along so well and he's very polite on the phone. I wish you would at least think about it. Call me soon, all right?"

The woman had managed to spread out her request over a set of five lengthy messages since Christian had programmed the machine to only allow three minutes of talk to each caller. Joan was sure determined to talk her nephew. Nick doubted that the other would call her back. Christian rarely spoke to his family and when he did, it was either because he desperately needed something or he was forced into it. It seemed to Nick that Christian had always been at odds with his family. He thought they couldn't understand him. Christian was probably right.

It wasn't a new concept to him. Nick had never connected well with his family either. It was one of the many things that he and the older man shared.


This night wasn't any different from the others. Both he and Christian were seated at opposite ends of the rickety wooden table in the kitchen, which was graced with a variety of burn marks, varying in size and color depending on the damage they had done. Nick had his four pieces of loose-leaf paper positioned to the right of his half-filled glass of beer, while a plain orange pencil flanked the glass on the left. The top sheet of paper was labeled 'Composition 12: Persuasion.' Halfway across the table on the other side of the papers rested a plastic black ashtray and another glass, this one nearly empty. Christian tapped the glass while balancing a cigarette between two of his fingers. His inquisitive visage warned Nick that their usual game of 'question and answer' was about to begin anew. Of course, Christian had picked him to answer first.

"Why did you run away, Nick?" Christian asked, peering quizzically at his companion. His light brown locks hung in their delicate curls by his eyes, partly shielding the darkness inside the green orbs and seeming to give them a more gentle appearance. "Did you have family problems? Did you run into trouble? Are you just trying to find the real you?"

"I don't have a family," responded the younger man, shifting his eyes from view. "I don't need one."

"You're an orphan?"

"No," Nick grumbled as he shook the liquid in his drink. "Not really. I have relatives who exist. My father lives somewhere out there and my step-mother is raising my younger sister back where I used to live. They divorced when I was eleven."

Christian put out his cigarette and leaned across the table. "But if you have a family, then why would you want to stay here? This place is awful."

"You stay here."

"I deserve this place. It would be greedy to ask for better."

"I can't be around my step-mother. I never did like her much. She tried too hard to replace my real mother and she also ignored some major things during my childhood because of her demanding job and her complacent nature. I guess I never forgave her for those years. As for my father, I simply hate him. That's the extent of this conversation."

"You don't belong here," Christian stated firmly, locking his deceivingly soft eyes with the other's stern gaze.

"Nobody does," muttered the other, pushing his glass toward Christian and getting up from the table. He gathered his essay and pencil from the table and tossed an indifferent glance at Christian. "Then again, I've never belonged anywhere so this place is just as good as any. I probably won't stay long anyway."

The older man stood up with his glass in hand and stepped in front of the other, blocking his path. "Don't you have friends, Nick? There's got to be someone who could give you something better than this. You're still young. You have a chance to do something with your life. You should take it while it's here."

"I had friends once. They were nice. It was exciting to spend time with them. But they cared about me. Too much. I've never been good with that. It makes me feel nervous. I can't handle the idea that anyone would want to show a runaway like me so much kindness and affection. They confused me, so I left. It was them I was running from when I met you. They were the only family I've ever accepted, even if it was only for a short time. I guess that's why I had to leave. I didn't want to be accepted. I don't want to be noticed. I just want to be."

"You should go back to them."

Nick attempted to smile and waved off Christian's advice. "Who are you kidding? You'd go to pieces on your own. You need someone to keep you in line."

"Well, it is nice to have someone to get drunk with and not have to worry about them going crazy on me afterward," remarked Christian, winking one of his faded green eyes as he downed the rest of his glass in one huge gulp. He motioned toward Nick's drink with his eyes and shrugged. "Even if it's someone who is a wuss when it comes to true liquor."

Bristling, the other man glared at Christian as he growled lowly, "I have an exam tomorrow afternoon. I cannot afford to get wasted the night before."

"Likely story," laughed his companion, moving out of his way and sinking back into one of the chairs at the table. Lighting another cigarette, he gave Nick a critical look and inhaled the rush of nicotine. He blew a thin stream of smoke toward the other and leaned back in his chair, staring up at the ceiling. The expression on his face was subdued and regretful even as he tried to twist his lips into a wry smile. "You care too much about school."

"Yeah and you better start copying my example if you want to do well next year. When's the application due again?"

"Two weeks from now. To tell you the truth, I'm thinking about not sending it," Christian answered, mumbling the last part under his breath.

"Why ever not? You want to go to college, don't you? Don't you want to get a better job than what you have now?"

"What makes you think I can get in in the first place?"

"You're not stupid, Christian. You kicked ass on those entrance exams."

"I haven't gone to school in four years."

"That doesn't matter!" contested Nick, almost shaking from anger. "You still should apply!"

Christian's eyes widened in surprise and he hung his head for a moment. Then, he lifted it up again, displaying a forced grin. "I was just joking, Nick. Of course, I'll apply. I'll start on my essay tomorrow, okay?"

Nick felt a pang of guilt as he realized how he had upset his roommate. He turned from the man and shuffled off, uttering a hesitant apology. As he left, he heard the sound of the refrigerator being pulled open as Christian sought out more substances for his binge.


He hadn't been worried then. Christian always drank to ease his nerves. But he knew now that he should have sensed something different about that particular night. He had been too furious to think straight. It was just so hard to believe that Christian would just give up on his dreams like that. Dreams were the only thing Christian had anymore. He couldn't just throw all that away.

It was strange. Hopes and other intangible things like them had never seemed very important to him. His business was practicality. Dreams were anything but practical. They were simply too fragile. Such nonsense had never gotten him anywhere so he had given up on it. Now, he didn't have dreams, he had direction. It had a better guarantee of success. More importantly, it didn't involve confusing things such as emotions and introspection.

But Christian supposed to be different. Christian had a reason to want another life for himself. For him, dreams shouldn't have been just impossible aspects but things that could be attained if he tried hard enough. The thought of being forever trapped within the nightmare of his own existence must have been taking its toll on the older man. A person like that needed something to believe in.


Nick heard a small 'meep' as he stepped into the apartment. The soundtrack to Rent was blaring in the background and Nick held his hands to his ears as he noticed Christian race through the hall in a pair of tight black pants and an oversized T-shirt. Christian smacked the off button on his CD player and snatched the CD from the inside, hiding it behind his back.

"Practicing for Broadway again?" Nick joked as Christian scrambled to force the soundtrack back into his CD holder.

"I was just listening to some music. I have to work a long shift tonight so I want to be sure I'm relaxed. I wasn't even paying attention to what I put in," faltered the older man, running his hand through his damp brown bangs.

His roommate gave him a skeptical look and reached into his backpack, removing a folded packet of papers. "Okay okay, whatever you say. By the way, I picked you up something at the university."

"Oh?" Christian drawled, curiosity giving his voice a younger inflection.

"Remember how you always say that you want to get into drama someday? Well, they were having some Major Fair around campus this afternoon and it seems that my university has a great drama program. They even offer weekend classes in case you're not ready for full-time. If you send out your application before the spring, you'll have a fair advantage over the rest of the younger applicants."

He shoved the paper at Christian as the other took it from his fingers and gave it a quick glance. His eyes filled with confusion and he stepped away from his companion, gripping the application materials tightly in his hands. "You want me to apply to your school?"

"Sounds like a good idea to me. You're always trying out your acting skills or musical numbers whenever you think I'm asleep and you've mentioned the notion of becoming an actor from time to time during our drunken rituals."

"This is your reason for bring me this? Nick, when I'm drunk, I don't know what the hell I'm saying. I could have said I wanted to be a radiologist. Would you have found me an application for that too?"

"You want to be a performer, Christian. It's nothing to be ashamed of. If you work at it, maybe you can become one some day. Maybe, you'll even get your big Broadway break."

"This is ridiculous. It's just a fantasy. I could never actually pull it off. Look what I've done with my life so far! It's shit! I can't even get a decent job!" raged Christian, throwing the papers to the floor. "I'm forced to resort to things that most don't even want to talk about. And you think a person like me could actually make his way through college and become a professional dramatic artist? Hell, I thought I was the only one here who was delusional."

Without another word, Nick reached down and collected the scattered papers on the ground. He arranged them back into a neat pile and set them on the counter next to Christian's CD player. "Just because you've been dealt a bad hand doesn't mean you should just give up. I had a friend once whose childhood was terrible and he still tried to live his life as best as he could. He didn't give up on his dreams. I don't think you should either."

"I don't need a preacher, Nick. That's what I have my aunt for," the other man hissed as he swept his carton of cigarettes from the easy chair next to him.

Nick felt his blood boil at the insult, but he forced himself to keep his temper in check as he walked back over to his roommate. He took the cigarettes with one agile swipe of his hand; holding them by his shoulder and staring back at Christian with a plaintive look in his dark eyes. Christian was not going to seek out their comfort tonight.

"Do me a favor. Just send in the application. That way you'll at least know if you have what it takes."

Christian stole the box back from Nick and knocked a white stick of nicotine into his palm. The younger man moved his hand as if to reclaim the cigarettes but Christian stopped him with a searing leer. "Fine, I'll do you your favor in return for a favor for me," he challenged, twirling his cigarette in his fingers as Nick crossed his arms across his chest.

"Fair enough. What do you want me to do for you?"

"If I get in, then you get back in touch with your old friends and make them take you out of here. As I've told you many times, you don't belong here. This is my world."

His companion seemed irritated by the offer and dropped his eyes to the carpet. He kicked the surface and cursed to himself. It wasn't that he didn't want to see his friends again. It was more like he wasn't sure if he could. They had not parted well and he no longer felt worthy of belonging to their circle. Besides that, he was afraid of that closeness and kinship still. It was all too much for him. He was used to a more casual sort of companionship, one that didn't involve such a strong degree of trust and commitment. He couldn't handle things like that. They were unfamiliar to him. His family life had never managed to instill a liking for such aspects in his being.

Finally after an eternity of useless stalling, he nodded slowly.



Following that conversation, Christian had appeared to uphold his part of the bargain, taking his entrance exams, gathering financial information, and getting the required physical. But he had gone through it all without much pressing and Nick had begun to believe that Christian was starting to think that he really had a chance of getting into the university.

Aside from the one time Christian had mentioned forgetting about the application, the man had shown no other signs of reluctance. Then came the night that had resulted in Nick being forced to do the most irrational thing he had done in a long time. He still wasn't sure why he had done it. It wasn't his business. He had no right to interfere if Christian wanted his life to stay the same. Yet, upon hearing his roommate's words that night, he knew that he would never be able to just let the whole thing go.


He had been sleeping on the easy chair that night when he had heard the door slam open, rattling the walls ever so slightly. Startled, he leaped from the cushions and flicked out the night lamp by the table stand. Since Christian's apartment had only contained one bedroom, his only available sleeping location had been the broken-down recliner. He had never had any problem sleeping there since it was so close to the door and Nick naturally possessed a watchdog type of mentality.

Upon turning on the lamp, he found Christian stumbling through the entrance, holding his side and sobbing softly. When Nick approached him, he noticed that the man's clothes were a mess and his left eye was glazed, the skin around it swelling badly. His neck was covered in bruises that appeared to have been caused by hungry kisses, producing ugly hickeys all over the flesh. Gasping, Nick held out his hand to help Christian. The older man jerked his head to the side and swiped at him with the back of his hand. Nick staggered backward, aghast at how his roommate was acting.

"I don't need your help," spat Christian, leaning against the wall as he limped into the kitchen.

"Christian, are you all right?" Nick questioned faintly, already knowing the answer.

Christian ignored him as he yanked open the refrigerator and retrieved something from its shelves. It was too dark for Nick to see what it was without the lights and the tiny pulse of illumination coming from his personal lamp wasn't doing him any good. He sought out a light switch, running his fingers against the kitchen wall. A small snapping sound reached his ears, bringing to mind the image of a beer can being opened.

Fearing that it wasn't in his companion's best interests to get drunk at the moment, Nick postponed his search and called out to Christian once more. "I asked if you were all right."

"What do you think?" the other growled as he kicked the refrigerator door shut, shaking the contents inside. "Do I look all right to you?" He lifted the can to his lips and took a swig of the draft.

"Maybe you shouldn't drink right now."

"Yeah? Maybe you should shut the hell up!"

"Seriously, Christian, you might really mess yourself up if you drink in this condition," Nick entreated him.

A harsh light gleamed from Christian's emerald eyes, giving them just a touch of depravity. He threw back his head and laughed darkly. "Might mess myself up? Might! Where have you been, Nick? I'm beyond messed up already! I can't even respect myself enough to know when to say no. Hell, I get drunk every night because I'm hoping that sooner or later, I'll get alcohol poisoning and die. Yes, you heard me. I want to die! I'm so sick of all of this! I'll never get out of here. Nowhere else would take a loser like me. I belong in this shithole with the rest of the trash."

"That's not true! Once you get a response to that application...."

"Application! You and that fucking application! Do you know what I think of your precious application?" screamed Christian, storming over to one of the cabinet doors and throwing it open. He shot his hand inside and yanked out a handful of papers, hurling them upon the table.

Nick's hand slipped upon the wall, accidentally finding the light switch. The room was flooded with a bright light, allowing him to see the papers. He was shocked to see the application forms to the university, each page meticulously filled out in black ink. " finished it. Why didn't you send it yet? The deadline is two days from now."

"What's the point in sending it in? I'll just get rejected. I think I have enough misery for the time being. I don't need some damn rejection making it worse."

"You don't know that for sure. Why can't you at least try?"

"It's not worth it."

"What? Christian, listen to me. This is your...."

"Shut up!" the older man shouted, hitting the counter so hard that he split the skin on the side of his hand, causing the wound to fill with blood. Some of his tousled hair shifted from the movement, falling over his eye. Furious, he shoved it back with the injured hand, staining the brown strands a rusty red. "Just shut up! I'm sick of listening to you! For God's sake, you're only nineteen! Your opinion should mean nothing to me. Besides, you can get out of this urban prison whenever you want. All you have to do is leave. You still have plans for your life. What have I got?"

"You've got someone who has a good mind to knock some sense into you," snarled Nick, angered at how Christian was completely blowing off his logic.

Christian took another drink and walked up to Nick, spreading out his arms. "Oh yes, do join the club. Everyone else has already had their way with me. Wouldn't want you to feel left out, Nick."

Ashamed of his behavior, Nick turned away from the man and removed the papers from the table. Christian pulled out a chair and sat down as the younger man located his jacket by the front door. He rummaged through the pockets for a minute as Christian watched him in disgust, finishing his drink and then going back for another. While his back was turned, Nick managed to find the item he was looking for and withdrew it with a small smile.

"I guess I did have one left," he said, holding up a paper stamp.

Glancing down at his can, Christian popped the tab and muttered aloud, "What are you doing now?"

"You know, there still may be time to send this. I think express mail will ship a letter overnight if you pay extra. Now, where do you keep the envelopes?"

"Express mail."

The words rolled off Christian's tongue as if they were a curse. He squeezed the can in his hand and intercepted Nick as he prepared to enter the kitchen. Before his roommate could react, Christian tore the papers from his hands. "I'll give you express mail." He tilted the can over the pages, drenching them and the rug underneath in beer. "This can go to the dumpster via express mail."

"Stop!" cried Nick, reaching for the sodden sheets.

Within seconds, the pages were released to the floor, plummeting into wet clumps as the man emptied the rest of the can over their forms. Nick gaped at them for a moment and then with a savage yell, he whirled upon Christian, shoving him back into the wall as hard as he could. The only response he received was the man letting his hollow can fall to the ground. He tried to make Christian look at him, but the man pressed his eyes shut and turned his cheek against the wall.

"STUPID! How could you do that? How could you just ruin everything like that?" Nick wailed, clutching at his roommate's shirt. "What is wrong with you?"

Christian slumped against the surface, not even attempting to push Nick away. "So much for my benevolent savior. Did you lose your passion for my well being?"

"You're destroying your life."

"Yeah. Well, it's my life so back off."

"What about your dreams?"

"There's no place for dreams here."

Rendered mute by Christian's statement, Nick pulled away from the older man and returned to the kitchen table. He placed his head in his hands and shut his eyes to think. Behind him, he could hear the clinking of aluminum as his companion got himself some more drinks. The door shut with a soft thud and departing footsteps sounded in his head.

"I think I'll drink in my room tonight. Good night, Nick."

As Nick listened to his roommate's door close, he lifted his head from his hands and looked back at the soggy sheets of paper on the rug. Most were crumpled, but he could still see a glimpse of the black writing from the outside. He crept over to the forms and peeled one from the fabric, almost gasping when he realized that he could still make out most of the information. Christian had trashed the forms themselves, but he hadn't ruined everything.

Noticing the direction in which his thoughts were headed, Nick shook his head. This wasn't his concern. Christian didn't want things to change. He wanted to be miserable all his life. The man didn't want something better. He had done his good deed. Acquiring the application and coercing Christian into filling it out had been the best he could have done. Nothing further was expected of him. Christian just didn't want his help. What more could he do?

Still, Christian deserved this chance, even if he was unwilling to take it himself. Christian wasn't an entirely bad person. He had taken him in when he had needed some place to stay and he had always helped him out with his schoolwork. Not only that, he had given him friendship without all the emotional baggage. Now, Christian needed his help. Even if performing never managed to take him away from these slums, he could at least be happy doing the one thing he enjoyed more than anything else in the world. Christian needed this. Nick would make sure that he had a fair shot.

Slowly, he separated the rest of the sheets from the rug and shook them off. There was still a way to fix everything. Well, everything that could be fixed.


The next day, Nick had taken the application to school and copied everything onto another set of forms. He had rushed to the post office afterwards and had paid the extra money for overnight express. Since then, he had done nothing but wait and decide when he should tell Christian what he had done. It seemed that it would be foolish to wait any longer, seeing as how the letter, with whatever answer it might bare, was already there on the table.

There would be no more stalling on his part. He would go get Christian now.

Fifteen minutes later, Nick found himself inside of a club. This one was much shadier than the one he worked at, but it was known that this was the one that Christian usually frequented during his business interviews. It didn't even take him long to find the older man. He spied him speaking to another man on the darker side of the room, but he couldn't make out what he was saying due to the din of the music.

He fought through the crowd and rushed over to his roommate, interrupting the chat that he was having with his companion. Christian turned to him with a disgruntled look on his face. He was wearing a black mesh shirt and a pair of tight tan pants with a heavy coat, featuring a furred collar, thrown over the ensemble. His hair had been styled so that it framed his face perfectly, giving him the resemblance of an indigent angel. The look made Nick ill. He couldn't stand it when Christian tried to pull off the 'cheap object' act.

"What are you doing here?" his roommate demanded.

"It's time to go home," replied Nick in a matter of fact tone.

"Excuse me," Christian told the older man beside him and then grabbed Nick's arm and pulled him to the side. "I told you I'll help you with the paper tomorrow. I'm busy right now."

"You need to go back," stated the younger man, tugging his arm backward and freeing it from Christian's grasp.


"Because this," Nick answered, gesturing to the sections around them, "All of stupid! And that guy over there, he's an asshole. I don't need to speak to him to know that much. You can do better than this."

"Mocking my choice now, Nick?"

"I'm not being funny. We're leaving now!"

The man, who had been waiting in the corner during their argument, walked over to the pair and glowered at Nick. "Hey, punk, I was in the middle of a very important conversation. I have to discuss the particulars with my good friend, Christian."

"Sorry, I had an appointment scheduled before you. You'll just have to find someone else for now," said Nick, taking his roommate's wrist and preparing to drag him away from the corner.

"I don't like your attitude," the stranger warned, stepping in front of Nick.

"Neither do most people. I'm used to it. Now, if you wouldn't mind getting out of the way."

"I'll teach you to talk to me like that, you little son of a bitch!"

He snatched the back of Nick's collar and flung him against one of the tables, flipping it over and sending the objects on top of it flying to the ground. There was a general panic throughout the crowd and people began to flock to the exit. Nick tried to sit up and felt the back of his head to see if he was bleeding. Dazed by the impact, he blinked his eyes at the sound of people yelling around him.

"NICK!" hollered Christian, forcing past the aggressive man. He kneeled at Nick's side and grabbed his shoulders. "Nick, are you okay?"

"Yeah," his companion breathed.

Christian spun around to the other man and shot him a livid glare. "Nick's right. I already promised him that I would help with his composition tonight. We ARE going home.

"What? You said...." began the other. He made an attempt to get closer to the pair when Christian pointed an accusatory finger at him.

"If you even try to get in my way, I'll report you for assault!" Still keeping his eyes on the angry man, he lifted Nick to his feet. "Come on, let's get out of here before the owners show up."


Christian started to set up their routine drinking procedure as soon as they entered the apartment. He set the glasses on the table and selected two cans of alcohol, which he used to fill one glass part way and then emptied the rest into the other vessel. Nick wasn't surprised that Christian was trying to pretend that nothing had happened. He was probably too shocked by the events to react to them at the moment.

As usual, the preparations were followed by Christian pulling out his pack of cigarettes and choosing one to ignite with his lighter. Nick observed his actions as he paced about the room, too nervous to sit down. Christian was going to find out what he had done tonight. He wasn't quite sure what his reaction would be.

"Still spooked by the fight?" inquired Christian in between puffs.

"Not really."

"Why don't you sit down then?"

" don't feel like drinking tonight," Nick responded, pleased that it wasn't a complete lie. He really didn't feel like getting drunk. Too much had happened tonight and he needed time to let everything settle in his mind.

His companion took the cigarette out of his mouth and shook off the ash. "Oh, I see. First, you mess with my work. Now, you want to mess with my relaxation practices. I can't ever make you happy, can I?"

"Did you read the mail yet?" asked the younger man, intent on changing the topic.

"Didn't have time," Christian replied. "Why? Is there anything special today? Are they going to evict us for being two measly days late with the payments?"


"So why did you ask about it?"

"You should look through it real quick," suggested Nick, moving his eyes toward the pile of letters.

"Well, aren't we being secretive?" the other quipped as he half-heartedly snatched at the top envelope without even looking. "All right, let's see what's so...." His voice trailed off and his face blanched as the letter shook in his hands. "Where did this come from, Nick?"

Adopting a nonchalant manner, Nick went over to the counter and grabbed what was left of the lasagna. "A school. Did you have time to eat any of this?"

The older man leapt up from the table and furiously shook the letter at Nick's back. "You know what I mean! Where did this come from? I didn't send out any application."

"I know. I sent it."


"Just after you went to sleep, I salvaged it and then copied it to ship off the following day."

"You had no right to do that!" accused Christian in a low voice.

"Somebody had to send it out. I'm sure it would have been you if you hadn't had such a rough night," Nick explained as calmly as he could and even gave a false shrug of his shoulders.

"Damn you!" yelled his companion, dropping the letter to the ground and sweeping his hand across the table in a maddened rage. The glasses rolled to the floor and smashed upon contact, spilling their contents all over the cracked tile. Christian seemed to break along with them, collapsing upon the edge of the table and fighting back tears. "Since when do you decide what I'm going to do with my life? I'm not a little child! I don't need your help! You're just a stray I picked up from the streets."

Nick bent down and recovered the letter, slapping it against his palm. "So what if I'm a stray? I've always been a stray! That doesn't mean I can't understand simple facts. You want to perform. It's in your blood. You love to act and you're pretty good at it. You act around me and you act around your associates and you acted around those guys at the club. I think you'll make a fine performer and college will just give you more confidence in yourself when you see what you can do."

"Why?" Christian whispered, burying his face in his arms as he kneeled on the floor.

"I told you. I think you'll make a good dramatic artist."

"I want the real reason."

The real reason? Nick was stumped. He had given Christian the real reason, hadn't he? It was because he wanted to see him succeed. That was all. There was no deeper significance of his help.

Yet, his mind seemed to think otherwise as it forced repressed words through his mouth.

"My best friend used to always tell me that sometimes every person only gets one chance at real happiness. If they ignore the chance when it appears, then they may never get that opportunity again. So they have to go for it while they still can. I never really understood that advice, but I think I sort of do now. Well, I hope you do anyway."

"Is that why you came here? Because you didn't understand what it meant?" Christian posed, lifting his head slightly.

"Perhaps," mumbled Nick, handing the letter back to his roommate. "This doesn't do you any good if it's never opened."

"Yeah," the other man agreed, crawling back into the chair and lighting another cigarette.

"So open it."

Christian nodded and pulled up the front flap. He took out the letter inside and unfolded it as if it was some fragile object that would disappear if handled too carelessly. Taking a deep breath, he set his eyes on the center of the paper and began to read out loud.

"Dear Mr. Christian Delcroix, we are pleased to inform you that...."

Tears filled the man's shivering green eyes and his voice broke off as Nick crept over to him and read the letter silently over his shoulder. Nick could almost feel a smile lifting his lips as he poured over the acceptance message. Christian shouldn't have worried so much. He easily had what it took for the school. Christian was clearly intelligent. He had seen evidence of this during his help sessions and also on the older man's scores for the entrance exams. All he needed to do was have more faith in himself. Maybe, he would now.

He patted Christian's shoulder and moved to the side. "Congratulations, Christian. You're going to go, right?"

The older man gave a happy laugh even as the tears ran down his face. "Of course," he choked, his voice struggling through the rush of emotions. "You went through all the trouble to see that I got in. Don't worry. I'll make your trouble worth the while."

"All right. See you in a little while."

"Where are you going?"

"I need to use the phone," remarked Nick, heading toward the back room.

"I don't understand," Christian spoke as he got ready to stand up and follow him, pressing his shriveled cigarette against the ashtray.

"I have to uphold my part of the bargain, remember?" the other called back before he disappeared around the corner. "There's a few loyal friends of mine who are due for a call."