Chapter 22: High School Warfare Of Epic Translations

I awake to the sound of my ringing cell phone. It almost strikes me as odd—not because it is ringing, but because this is the first time it has rung since I got here. Mark usually calls me once a day at least. The considerable lack of calls suddenly hits me.

But I don't have time to wonder about it. In an effort not to miss the call, I flip it open without even looking at the caller ID.

"Hello?"

"Peter." The voice, at first, seems familiar but I can't place it.

"Who's this?"

"Freddy." My uncle. He, like my parents, never calls me. This strikes me as even weirder, then. "There's something I need to tell you."

"Can't it wait?" I ask irritably. "The phone company's charging me extra for long distance."

"Long distance?" he repeats.

"Yeah, I'm," I pause, suddenly wondering if it's a good idea to tell, but I suck it up, "I'm in Mexico right now."

"Mexico?" he repeats again.

"Yeah," I say, feeling my patience wearing thin. "But, look, it's expensive, so we'll talk later."

"No, I need to talk to you now," he states sternly, leaving no room for argument. I still, somehow, manage to argue.

"Freddy, I can't afford—"

"Peter, you're wasting your own time," Freddy interrupts, sounding just as annoyed as me. Maybe even more. "I'll pay the bill if you're so f…poor."

It sounded like he just censored himself there. I swear he originally meant to say, "If you're so fucking poor." I can't remember hearing him cuss before, or even almost-cuss, so it must be important. I give up.

"Sorry," I say meekly. I hear him sigh over the line.

"Look, I got a call from your mother just now," he says haltingly, obviously reluctant to say this. My ears perk up. I have a vague notion of what's coming. "She was at the hospital this morning…"

"He's dead, isn't he?" I interrupt, leaning back against my pillows. "My father is dead."

I can practically hear him nodding. "He had another heart attack early this morning. Didn't make it."

"Yeah," I whisper solemnly, though I don't know why. I thought I'd be happy when he died; I thought I'd dance and celebrate, call all my friends, have a party. But, then again, I'm not sad. It's just…some weird emptiness. The same thing I felt when all my other relationships ended. I was glad, relieved, that it was over, but at the same time, I knew I would miss it. In the struggle, both emotions have given up, and I'm left with nothing.

He's dead. He's dead. Dead, dead, dead.

"Was it painful?" I ask. "His death?" I'm not sure whether I want Freddy to say yes or no.

"I don't know," is his response, satisfying neither of my wants. Perhaps that's for the best. I guess I shouldn't know. I won't ask again. "Look, I'm sorry, Peter."

I stay silent for a moment, staring at a cheap poster hanging on the wall opposite of me. It's a copy of a painting of a woman in a frilly dress, dancing a salsa with a smile on her face. It reminds me, for some reason, of the girl selling the rugs in the market yesterday.

"I'll come home tomorrow," I say, and pause again. "Thanks…for telling me."

This time, Freddy pauses. When he speaks again, I can hear confusion in his voice. "Of course."

break;

After pulling on my jacket and emerging into the brisk November weather, I find Andy much the same as I found him yesterday—that is, bent over the engine of my truck, shirtless with a bandanna around his head. I clench my fists, glaring at him from my spot on the porch.

"Fucker! I told you to stop fucking with my truck!" I cry, marching down the stairs and approaching him. He pulls out from under the hood and grins at me.

"And I told you I'm making it better," he tells me, and then his grin fades. "What's wrong?"

I blink. How does he do that? I'm not acting out of the ordinary, am I?

"What are you talking about?" I ask defensively.

He doesn't say anything, just steps close to me and gives me a sympathetic gaze. Then, with no prior warning, he closes the rest of the distance and then some, kissing me so suddenly and deeply that I have to pull away. He doesn't, though, so his face just hovers in front of mine for a little before he leans forward, kissing me again—lighter, this time. I sigh through my nose and kiss back, nipping at his lips and moving my hand to cup his jaw. Usually, like that, I'd be able to play with his hair with the tips of my fingers, but now all I touch is the soft fuzz of a shaved head and the fabric of the bandanna. I really miss his hair.

When the kiss finally breaks, I reach up to the top of his head and start to play with his Mohawk, just to satiate my need. I stare at his hair sadly, and my eyes start to sting with tears—when I look down to find his big dark sympathetic eyes focused entirely on me, the tears start to fall and I quickly bury my face in his neck.

I hate crying. I really hate it. But…when Andy holds me like this…it feels, somehow, worth it.

"Shh," he soothes, stroking my hair with his left hand—I guess because with the cast, that arm is too awkward to hold me and he wants to comfort me as much as he can. I don't tell him so, but it's very much appreciated.

"Andy," I start, and gasp at the end of it, throwing me even deeper into tears. "I…h-hated him so much. I wanted him t-to die," I stutter between sobs, hugging Andy closer. I'm sure he has no idea what I'm talking about, but I kind of like it that way.

"It's okay," he whispers. "It's okay…"

It must be annoying to have me crying into his bare shoulder. I should stop and do this in private instead. But I can't. It's too nice to think, even just for a little bit, that Andy is really there for me, and will be forever.

Once my tears start to go away, Andy drops me with his left hand, even though he still has his right tightly wound around my torso, and leads me toward the back of my truck. He pulls down the door and sits me down on it, without ever really letting me go. When he places himself next to me, I attack him again, burying my face into his skin and dragging us both onto the floor of the bed.

I'm not crying anymore, but I don't want to be let go, so I pretend I still am. I remember when he said, "Anytime you want, just ask," and I really think he meant it, so I know he won't let go even if I'm not crying but…but I don't want to take the chance. I love this.

"Tell me what's wrong," he whispers across my head, his breath tickling the strands of hair. He sounds like he's asking rather than demanding.

It seems like, to tell him, I need to explain things to him again. To really go into depth about my relationship with my father. To tell him more than I did in the stupid Chinese restaurant, to tell him about the hospital visit, how the last thing I really said to my father was that he failed. Tell him everything my father ever said to me, and didn't say, did and didn't do. Only that would be sufficient enough to explain to him why this is upsetting me when all I really wanted was for my father to die. But I can't tell him all that. Not only am I unwilling, but it's impossible.

Andy can't understand. But, when I tell him what my uncle told me, he does.

break;

Stargazing is much better than cloud gazing in deserts. With no water, there are no clouds. But, being only midmorning, we have to settle.

There is only one wispy, pathetic little cloud a little too close to the horizon today, so we both think of a million different things that that one little cloud could possibly resemble. I'm still trying to see the pirate ship of Andy's last suggestion. To me, it still looks like merely an asymmetrical blob of white.

"I'm not seeing it, Andy," I say, squinting my eyes and turning my head a little. Now that it's getting closer to noon, it's becoming harder to see.

"See that little triangular thingy at the top there," he says, lifting his hand and pointing, though pretty uselessly because from my vantage point he isn't even pointing to the cloud at all. "That's the flag."

"I thought flags were rectangles," I muse.

"Not this one," he replies.

"You're grasping at str—"

"What are you two fags doing?" an irritating and sadly familiar voice interrupts. Andy shoots up into a sitting position, and I lethargically copy him.

Tony has placed himself at the edge of my truck, glaring at us spitefully. Standing up close, he looks even taller and lankier than I initially thought.

"Andy, please, put a shirt on," he hisses. "Nobody wants to see that waste of cells."

I look at Andy, surprised that he doesn't retort. He just looks away with an annoyed, yet somewhat defeated expression. I feel rage swell up inside me.

"Hey," I say, turning back to Tony. "Why don't you just go get laid? It would make you more tolerable."

"Shut up, fag," he snaps, as if he hadn't already used that insult already. "Not everybody likes to fuck around with other men like you do."

"I never said men," I reply, suppressing my anger and forcing my voice to sound unaffected. I think it works pretty well. "But if that's what you're thinking, who am I to comment?"

"Are you implying that I'm gay like you?" he asks defensively. I grin at him.

"I wasn't, but now that you mention it…"

"Shut up!"

"Hey, I just doubt any self-respecting woman, or man for that matter, would sleep with you. But you seem to know the type of people who hang around the market real well," I continue, feeling my anger transforming into sarcasm. "You said people like me sell themselves there, right? So I'm sure you could find some lonely boy…"

"Andy, shut your bitch," Tony says, snapping his eyes away from me.

"Can't think of a comeback?" I interject lazily. The glare returns to me only briefly before once again settling on Andy. I've never seen Andy look so meek before.

"Nobody ever wanted you to be born," Tony says, mercilessly showering his remarks on Andy, who merely flinches from the attention. "Now nobody wants you to be alive neither. You come here and parade your dirty fucking fags around the place, embarrassing everyone who knows you, and even those who don't. The world would be a better place without you. Even God hates you and your kind."

I stand, my fury returning, and leap from the truck to land on the ground in front of Tony. He's way taller than me, and, from the looks of it, taller than Andy too. "Don't you bring God into this, you bastard!" I shout deeply. "How the hell would the likes of you know what God thinks?"

"I actually go to church," Tony says haughtily. "I'm sure you don't, am I right? You ain't even Christian, are you?"

I narrow my eyes at him, though not only because he's right. "Oh, you go to church, huh? So that makes you some sagely prophet, does it?"

"Of course not, but I'm definitely more knowledgeable—"

"So stop telling me what the hell God thinks about us when you don't know either!" I growl.

Tony looks irritated and tired of me. He obviously thinks of me as a retard. His eyes turn back to Andy. "Tell your bitch to shut his mouth, Andy," he barks. "I won't warn you again."

"What are you going to do if I don't?" I challenge, glaring at his eyes when they flicker back to me.

"I won't need to do nothing. God will take care of it."

"Oh, what's wrong? Afraid you're going to get your ass beat by a fag?"

"Please," Tony drawls, scratching at his acne-scarred chin. "I could kick the shit out of you in one move."

"Prove it." I tighten my muscles, hoping he'll strike and preparing myself to act as soon as he does, but he just snorts.

"I don't need to. I already know I'm better than you, in every way."

"You don't know shit," I growl and lunge at him, grabbing the collar of his shirt threateningly. He steps back and his eyes widen nervously, obviously surprised by my action.

"Fuck! Guys, come on!" he shouts, and I pull back, perplexed with his exclamation. All too soon, however, the reason behind it becomes painfully clear—six new guys, Mexicans looking almost identical to Tony himself, scurry out from behind the corner of the house. I hear Andy gasp and scuffle around in the bed of my truck, but before I can even think to turn around and look at him, the guys are on top of me. Immediately I try to retreat in an attempt to avoid allowing them to surround me, but Tony uses my own threatening gesture against me; his hand curls around my wrist, and by the time I manage to break free, four of the men have cornered me.

"Fuck you! Can't even take me by yourself, huh?" I cry, crouching into a fighting stance, but Tony just smirks. His eyes flutter closed, and in a rather cocky manner, he leans over and says something to one of his buddies in Spanish. The guy repeats what was said, and instantly the circle parts to allow the two missing men to enter, dragging Andy between them. They throw him down, and meekly he falls to his knees, staring at the dusty ground, defeated.

All of a sudden, a wave of fear and anxiety washes over me, and I can't help but dart toward Andy—but before I can even get there, I'm pulled back into the arms of the two men behind me, and I can only watch helplessly as Tony paces over to where Andy kneels.

"You're such a man-fucking cock-sucker," Tony hisses, bending over and looking down his nose at Andy's hunched form. "And you have no fucking clue how shameful it is to know that the same blood runs through our veins, even if it is only half."

"Then just assume it was my father who gave it to me and leave me alone," Andy replies so softly I can barely hear it. Again, the rage boils inside me, but I manage to contain it by clenching my jaw shut.

"But you're still here!" Tony cries exasperatedly. "You're still wandering around, dirtying the world with your disgusting, contagious evil! I have to do something to fix you!"

"Shut up! Andy, get up and fight back!" I cry suddenly, jolting forward, but the men behind me are able to hold me back—though, I manage to loosen one's grip enough so that he grabs my bicep instead of my elbow; as soon as he lets go of my elbow, my hand, as if someone else were guiding it, smashes down toward my hip at an odd angle and crashes painfully into a very hard substance in my jacket pocket. I freeze, falling instantly silent, and allow the two men to pull me back a few steps.

Tony shoots me only a brief glance, and then returns his attention to Andy and begins speaking in Spanish. And to that, I can only say, fuck me. Fuck me for ignoring what everyone told me and skipping out on Spanish classes in high school. They told me I'd regret it, and I didn't believe them.

But, I suppose it doesn't really matter, because I don't think I'd even hardly be paying attention anyway, even if they were speaking English. Instead I focus on the two men behind me, watching for any sign of alertness on their part, particularly the one to my right, who's holding my bicep, as I (hopefully) surreptitiously delve my hand into my jacket pocket and close it around the cold metal that before was, to me, as agonizing as death itself.

Touch that gun, and you're dead. Somehow, despite everything, I grin at the irony.

I watch the scene unfold before me, silently like a spectator of a movie, waiting. With every remark by Tony, Andy offers a meek response, seeming to continuously sink deeper and deeper into the dusty Mexican sand.

There are no bullets. I hope I don't do anything to give that away.

The Mexicans break out in subdued, somewhat forced laughter when Tony says something, and Andy turns his face toward me, catching my eyes with his own pathetically miserable ones, but as soon as he does, he flinches and looks back at the ground. It makes me wonder what I look like now; maybe I'm being colder than I meant to be.

"Andy," I call his attention back, and he lifts his eyes, looking significantly less wretched than before.

And then, once again, strange as it may be, the grin comes back to my face. Andy looks almost frightened when he sees it.

"Hey, you!" Tony yells, swinging towards me with a heated glare. He remains still for a second, projecting his fury almost tangibly, and then growls and marches toward me. "You, whoever you are, are just another dirty little whore. You've let evil overcome you, just like Andy, and now you're helping him to spread your sin around," he practically lectures.

"What are you? A fucking Southern Baptist?" I ask calmly, eliciting a scowl from Tony.

"Shut up, you!" he screams, and then glances back and forth between my two restrainers. Immediately, as if they had communicated telepathically, they drop my arms, giving my hand slack enough to close fully around the gun, and slide it to the very brink of the surface. Tony doesn't notice, and just continues on his tirade: "Do you even know how wicked you are? You're impure and tainted, and Andy's just using you as a tool—"

"I'm so…fucking…sick of people telling me that!" I shout deep in my throat, letting my rage get the better of me. My hand clenches so tightly around the gun that, if the metal were any weaker, I swear I would have snapped it in half. Tony seems to know something's coming—his eyes widen in alarm, wiping off the domineering look instantly, just as I pull the gun from its confines of my pocket and swiftly bring it up, point-blank, right at Tony's forehead.

A startled gasp settles on the group, followed by a tense, nervous silence. I think the grin's back on my face again.

"Look," Tony says softly—cautiously. "We weren't going to do nothing."

"Nothing?" I repeat, narrowing my eyes. "You organize six people together to do nothing?"

"We weren't gonna hurt nobody, I swear," Tony goes on pleadingly. "Please don't do anything stupid…"

"Are you calling me stupid?" I ask, just for the hell of it, digging the barrel deeper into his forehead.

"No! I mean, don't do anything bad…to us…please," he reiterates quickly, his voice hoarse with a frightened strain.

"Get down on your knees," I hiss, and he complies instantly.

It must be the sadist in me that's getting so much amusement out of making him look close to pissing himself. The grin has got to be a smirk by now.

"Tell your buddies to go home," I order. "Do it, now."

Tony nods spastically and shouts something out. His friends hesitate, looking around at one another indecisively, but eventually they all slink away, watching me carefully out of the corners of their eyes as they go. Andy gets up from the ground, brushing the dust from his pants, and stands there idly. I turn my focus back to Tony.

"Now, you tell Andy you're sorry for what you said," I say, but when Tony opens his mouth, I jerk the gun threateningly, cutting him short. "Wait! Not just that. Tell him you're sorry for everything you've ever done to him. Tell him you won't ever come back and try to recruit him into your tyrannical service, or 'fix' him, or whatever the fuck you wanted to do with him ever again. Okay? Do it."

Tony pauses this time, making sure I won't interrupt again, before twisting his eyes, and only his eyes, to the side and calling out, "Andy! I'm sorry. I'm sorry for everything I've done to you. I swear I'll leave you alone from now on. I swear to God I will…please…" and his eyes come back to me.

"I'm not so sure that was sincere," I muse, and Tony whimpers.

"It was, I'm telling you. I can't be any more sincere than that. I swear to God. That's all who I can swear to," he rambles in an attempt to convince me. There are tears brimming in his eyes.

"I don't know…"

"God! I'm sorry, Andy. I swear, I'm sorry for everything! And you, too," he says, looking up meaningfully and begging me with his eyes. "I'm sorry for everything I've done and said to you, too. I won't do nothing to you. I'll let you be."

I bite my lip ponderingly, staring stonily down at him. I can't decide whether to torment him more or not. I don't want him coming back at Andy, but then, how much further will I be able to take this? The gun's not loaded, after all.

"Fine," I say, and draw back the gun a little bit. Tony breathes a visible sigh of relief, but, on a second whim, I bring the gun back up to his head, solidifying his body again. "But, I swear, if you ever, ever, harass Andy, in any way, I will hunt you down and shoot your fucking brains out. Do you understand me?"

Tony nods eagerly, and I pull the gun away again. It seems as though the gun was the only thing holding him up—as soon as I remove it, he falls all the way into the dirt, crashing with a puff of dust. I kick him in the shoulder.

"Now get the fuck out of here," I shout, aiming the gun at him, and he leaps to his feet, taking off down the street at a frantic run. I trail him with the gun until he's turned a corner and is completely out of sight. Then I turn back to Andy.

He's staring at me with absolutely no expression across his face—cold, soulless, doll-like eyes return my gaze. It's a little disconcerting.

"You're the one who's supposed to protect me," I say. He stays still as a statue, unchanging, not even blinking. Somehow I feel like I don't belong, so I turn and flee back inside the house in an effort to escape him.

break;

I've never been the strong one in relationships. I was never dependable, never worthy, never a leader. When the girls wanted me to be masculine, to protect them, or to take care of them, I shrank away from them. I left them hanging. I would run away.

I'm not sure if that fear of being responsible for them stemmed from my fear of relationships in general…or maybe they both came from the same thing, something else. I've never done this before, though. I've never gotten in a fight for someone else's benefit. It's always been all about me. Every man for himself. My benefit only, and no one else's. All about me.

But now, I guess, it's different because it's not all about me. I let myself become involved in something that doesn't have anything to do with me, and now I have to fight for it.

The truth is…I want Andy.

I sit on top of my bed, clenching and unclenching my right hand, wincing at the pain. I think I bruised it something awful—though I don't know when. Perhaps when I hit it against the gun in my pocket…?

I look at the .45, which is now resting on the tiny nightstand next to the bed. Before, I hated that gun. But now… If I hadn't had it today, I don't know what would have happened.

My eyes linger on it when the door slowly creaks open and a figure steps in; I don't look up until I hear the door click shut and locked. Then my gaze settles on Andy's strained face. He stares at the floor, looking apprehensive.

"You didn't have to do that," he says softly, his voice a mere whisper. "You could have gotten hurt."

"I'm used to fighting," I dismiss, waving my injured hand around. The cool air on it feels good—maybe I should get some ice.

"With guns?"

"Andy," I say sharply, fixing him with a chastising glare. His eyes dart up to meet mine. "That guy was threatening you."

"I'm used to it."

"I'm not."

"I'm not used to you warding off people with a gun," he says in a much stronger voice. I harden my glare.

"I'll never be used to you taking shit from people."

He turns away abashedly and pauses before he speaks. "So you did do it for me?"

"Why else would I have done it?" I retort, a tad on the confused side.

"I thought maybe you were just saving yourself."

It hurts. I don't know why it hurts so much, but it does.

"Andy." I sigh and stand up, walking over to him. I put my hands on his shoulders, but he still doesn't look at me. "He was threatening you," I repeat. "I don't care if he didn't mean it, or wasn't going to do anything, or whatever. It doesn't matter."

Andy pauses a moment, and then turns toward me and leans forward, placing his hands above my ears and pressing our foreheads together. His eyes slip closed, and I stare at the thin, curved lines of his eyelashes, blurry from their proximity.

I slide my hand around his waist and pull our bodies together. He moves his forehead from mine and presses the side of his face against mine. I kiss his jaw and then, pulling back just slightly, peck his lips gently. His eyes flutter open again, and he gives me a weak stare.

"Don't be like this, Andy," I whisper, touching my nose to his. "'Member just a minute ago I was crying into your shoulder?"

That once again reminds me of the call I got this morning. The thought of my father's death resurfaces, but I try to swallow it down. Andy's lips quirk into the tiniest of smiles, and that makes it all go away.

"You sure know how to make a guy forget about something. You and your fucking psycho family," I mutter, and kiss him again. I feel him smile into it, but close my eyes and deepen it.

I admit it now. I want him so bad. I'll take Cassandra's advice. I give up. I'll stop fighting him. Our failure is inevitable, because real men are doomed to be alone and die alone, and my father has conditioned me too much, but maybe…maybe I can enjoy it, just for now.

break;

I wake up in Andy's arms. Several of my limbs are painfully numb, probably from having the circulation cut off for hours. Groaning miserably, I manage to separate myself from him without waking him—he merely moans and rolls over, nearly plunging off the edge of the bed.

I don't know what time it is. The drapes are drawn again, and I have an urge to go and pull them open, though I resist, thinking that it might wake Andy. Instead I pull on some clothes and wander out into the hallway, where it is similarly dark and gloomy, and make my way to the bathroom for a shower. I arrive at the door just as Cassandra steps out, looking somehow different than usual. When she sees me, she smiles.

"Hey, Pedro," she sings, stifling a laugh. I glare at her.

"You know, I'd say you're a lot like Andy, but it's not true."

"No?" she asks, her smile surfacing even in her voice.

"No. You only got his bad traits and none of the good ones," I mutter, and move to step past her into the bathroom, but she jumps in my way.

"I'm going to disregard that comment because I have a very important question for you," she announces, looking at me expectantly.

"And that would be…?"

"Okay, although you're gay and probably don't have the same sense as real men do," she pauses for breath, "you are technically of the opposite gender so you might have a better opinion than, say, my mother does. And Andy always lies to make me feel better."

"That's nice, but I heard no question," I utter, trying to ignore the fact that she totally, and quite bluntly, just dissed my masculinity.

"I'm gettin' there!" she yips with a reproachful glare. "Don't interrupt. Okay, so here's the question: Does my makeup look good? And be honest. Don't be too kind."

She pauses, and I open my mouth to answer, but she cuts me off before I can say anything.

"Actually, since it's you, I take that back. Don't be too mean. But still be honest."

I lift my eyebrows at her, for some reason wanting to smile. I'd say that hers is contagious, but I'm completely immune to that sort of shit, so I'm definitely not going to say that.

I decide to give her a break and do as she asked. Looking at her closely, I scrutinize her makeup job. It's mostly just eye makeup—mascara, liner, and shadow. All black, which seems to go well with her complexion. It makes her look older, and more somber.

"Well," I say, leaning back and shaking my head, "you don't look like a whore."

Her smile morphs into a wry grin. "Thank you, Peter. Your opinion is very much appreciated." Finishing it with that, she begins humming to herself, completely tuning me out of her little world, as she skips absently back towards her room, slamming the door behind her.

I stare at the closed door for a while, musing over her behavior. Well, she's weird, but I guess that's better than being boring.

Shrugging my thoughts away, I turn and enter the bathroom, flicking on the light to find the sink cluttered with billions of makeup products, all scattered, disorganized, and generally messy. I shake my head in abandon and approach it, sifting through the clutter with my eyes. It doesn't take long before they come to rest on a long black stick, decorated with hot pink writing: "Sammy's Lashes," it says, and that makes me laugh inwardly, thinking of Andy's faggot friend.

I turn toward the shower, resting my hand on the knob to turn it on, but, pausing, my urges manage to get the better of me, and I turn back. Picking up Sammy's Lashes, I hesitate only momentarily before twisting it open and pulling out a spiky brush coated in the sticky black mascara.

Now I hesitate for a lot longer, staring at the brush, debating. But, eventually, abandoning all precautions, I lean forward over the sink, closer to the mirror, and bring the brush up to my eye.

Andy was right; it's a lot harder than it looks—putting on mascara, that is. I keep trying to blink in reflex, and eventually I have to pull down the lower eyelid and concentrate on holding my eyes wide open, without blinking, before I manage to get any on. Now I know why girls always look so stupid as they put on makeup.

After what seems like too long, I finish and pull away, recapping the brush and tossing it back into the pit of makeup on the sink. Then I look up and study myself.

Dark, depressed, and weak. In the end, everybody's the same. I'm just like everybody else.

We're just so good at putting on makeup. Everybody is. Girls and faggots are the only ones who know how to take it off. And misery is for some reason very attractive to people.

I guess the key is to put on makeup well enough so that no one knows you're wearing it.

"Peter."

The muffled voice makes me jump. I pull away and stare fearfully at the closed door.

"What?"

"Can I come in?"

It's Andy. I glance at my reflection in the mirror, at my darkened eyes, and then turn back to the door, letting out a breath.

"Sure. Fine," I call, and immediately Andy steps in. He blinks when he sees me, and narrows his eyes briefly before laughing faintly to himself.

"Were you having fun?" he asks.

"Yes, I was," I say stiffly, stepping back and glaring at him.

"You know, if I were you, I'd break up with you now for doing this," he mutters, and I feel an irrational wave of trepidation wash over me, but he continues: "Lucky I'm not insane like you, huh?"

I stand there dumbly for a good thirty seconds before breaking into a small, sheepish smile. "I thought we got over that."

"Yeah, we're so over that that now we can even talk about it," he agrees, a full grin coming over his face. He steps closer to me and holds out a hand as if to touch my face, but stops inches from it. "You look pretty like this."

"You're saying I don't look pretty anyway?" I accuse halfheartedly, smiling in response to his grin.

"A person who becomes more beautiful when they put on makeup obviously has the potential to, with artificial help, become more beautiful than they are normally. A person like that, naturally, is imperfect. All I'm saying is you're one of those people."

My smile fades. "Hey, you were supposed to say something reassuring right there, stupid."

"I did," Andy tells me. "I just told you you're not perfect."

"Which isn't a compliment!"

"Sure it is!" He lets out a short laugh. "If you were perfect, I wouldn't like you." He pauses again to breathe a sigh. "You do look pretty anyway, though. You just look pretty like this too."

I roll my eyes at him. "Thanks, Andy."

"Anytime, bud."

I shake my head. "I'm taking a shower now, so get out," I say, and twist on the hot water. Andy grabs my shoulder and pulls me upright to face him again, but he doesn't say anything—just looks at me with deep, searching eyes for so long that I start to squirm under his gaze.

"Something's changed, hasn't it?" he says musingly, and I blink at him uncertainly.

We stand in silence, with me fidgeting before him, until I gather my courage and turn back to the shower.

"Get out, I'm gonna take a shower," I repeat. "I gotta wash this shit off my face."

Andy's eyes roam over the bathroom and come to rest on the tiny window near the ceiling. "I hope it rains," he breathes, sounding absently wistful.

break;

Notes: I'm not so sure about Tony's character—I'm afraid it wavers around a little too much. Originally I had planned to be cheap and just make him a one-dimensional villainous plot-device (and I already had it written that way), but I couldn't resist adding depth to his character (because I like deep things, harr harr)—however, I can't help but think I didn't entirely get rid of the flatness of his character (the flatness in Chapter 20 was intentional, as a quick first impression, though) when I rewrote it.

If you're missing how, exactly, I think I've added depth to Tony's character, consider this: Tony really, deep down, loves Andy as a brother and is actually trying to help him in the best way he knows how.

Anyway, next chapter's the last one.

As always, thanks to diebyownhands, ddz008, Hate In The Form Of Passion (twice!), Jayn, tinkle time kelly, Collar de Espinas, mandraco, Sirivinda, Paperback Mummy, wickedzl, Pink Funky Squish, Keterah, ItalianQT, Marie, and Shadow 3013 (three times!) for your reviews!